Lawmakers Debate Need for New Central Nebraska Veterans Home


Governor Dave Heineman says Grand Island's in the driver's seat, but there's been no road map for cities competing for a new veterans home until now.

Health and Human Services officials finally outlined the needs on Monday, saying the home fails to meet even basic standards. There are not enough toilets, stairs and hallways are not wheelchair friendly.

Meanwhile Grand Island leaders make their case to keep the facility.

"We are a really good community to live in and a really good place for a veterans home," former mayor Margaret Hornady told NTV last month.

Residents of Grand Island came up with money to build a home for soldiers and sailors 126 years ago. They hope history is on their side.

"Lord knows there's plenty of land out there and it would just be a great way to extend our support and appreciation," Hornady said.

Heineman calls the current home "appalling." Health and Human Services officials like John Hilgert say members lack dignity and privacy.

He pointed out only 13 of 166 members have their own toilet, which is not sufficient for a skilled nursing care facility.

Many members share rooms. Some who require the use of a wheelchair live on upper floors, and home administrator Alex Wolford said elevator repairmen are on site nearly every day.

The head of the members council said it was an answer to their prayers when the governor announced his intention to include more than $45 million in the budget to replace the outdated home.

Jose Trejo said, "I'll be glad to see it happen. Hope the good Lord gives me life so I can step foot. First room's going to be mine. I would really be excited about that."

Hilgert said they were not looking to move the home from Grand Island, but had interest from another community. They do want to keep it in central Nebraska, but the process will be open to other cities.

Grand Island Mayor Jay Vavricek said, "We will entertain a competitive bid. Right now, it'll be confidential of course, but making sure people know we want the home here."

Sen. Jeremy Nordquist questioned the wisdom of moving the home when there's an established workforce. He said it shouldn't be moved "to save a buck" at the expense of losing its nursing and administrative staff.

Hilgert said the site selection would be weighted towards workforce availability

While Grand Island prepares its proposal behind closed doors, the city leads a very public campaign to keep the home, sending valentines to vets and even naming the street in honor of them.

Hornady said, "It just is a very simple token of our appreciation."

The city may have had the home for 125 years, but that's no lock for the future.

Vavricek said, "We respect competition and we're going to do our very best."

The first hurdle is asking the legislature for funding.

Sen. Mike Gloor said he's confident the home will stay in Grand Island. The senator said, "I can't imagine it will move but the fact is the bidding procedure means Grand Island will need to put its best state fair hat on and it'll be good for the veterans and make for a better vets home."

Officials with the Buffalo County Economic Development said friendly competition is good, however until the state department releases the request-for-proposal it's unclear if another community will come forward with a bid.

They asked cities to show their interest and make bids. They hope to begin that soon, but it's still a two-year process before construction can being.