Thursday, April 25, 2024

There is still more work to do

Staff Writer | December 29, 2020 1:09 AM

A new bus gifted through the Idaho Division of Veterans Services will help save the State Veterans Home in Post Falls around $200,000 in fundraising. However, the center still needs more to care for area service members.

In 2019 the Idaho Division of Veterans Services received a grant opportunity to establish a State Veterans Home in Post Falls, making it the fourth and northern-most center for war heroes to receive the care they deserve. The other three state facilities are in Boise, Pocatello and Lewiston.

Efforts to bring a facility to Kootenai County started about 12 or 13 years ago with Rep. Frank Henderson and former Post Falls Mayor Clay Larkin, said Len Crosby with the North Idaho Chapter of the Idaho Veterans Assistance League. Crosby got involved about a decade ago, he said, and assisted in securing funding and veteran data collection.

At the time, there were about 17,000 veterans in North Idaho, Crosby said, but now there are upward of 24,000.

"Kootenai County is considered the third most populated county in the state for veterans. We have somewhere between 14,000 and 16,000 here alone," Tom Freeman, Kootenai County's Veteran Services Director, said. "Politically and geographically, people are coming here from Oregon, Washington, and the general coast, and that is bringing veterans."

Rationalizing the home's need in Post Falls was a significant obstacle, Crosby said, but ultimately due to other federal applications being incomplete, Idaho became a front-runner.

According to the Idaho Department of Veterans Services, the home will be two combined buildings with four household wings, 64 private rooms, lounges, a dining area, chapel, barber/beauty shop, bistro, activity rooms, gyms and a therapy room. The home will also include a central food preparation area, laundry facility, maintenance and supply areas and administrative offices.

"We have a lot of veterans that when they get up in age, they need people to take care of them, and they need people more familiar with veteran-specific challenges," Freeman said. "These people served our country, and this is one way we take care of them when they don't have the family or the resources to do it on their own."

The facility will sit on a 7.3-acre plot of land donated by the Jacklin Land Company to the state in 2019 with the specific wish of being used for veteran services fronting Lochsa Street in the Riverbend Commerce Park. Just adjacent to BioPol Laboratory and Buck Knives, the $49 million, 85,000-square-foot structure began construction earlier this year but, due to COVID-19, was delayed until Spring 2021.

The time off wasn't all-bad, Crosby said, as it allowed IVAL to find grant opportunities for the site.

"The delay in construction let us apply for additional funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs, which will bring updated air quality to the housing, public entry modifications to allow for screening visitors, better air pressure and ultraviolet lights," Crosby said. "It also aided paying for a designated staff screening and dressing rooms."

As a veterans facility, the project is funded by federal, state, local and individual contributions. Approximately $31 million of the cost is covered by federal grants. The remaining $18 million was committed to by the Idaho Department of Veterans Services through savings in the Veterans Recognition Funds. While this seemingly ticks all the boxes, Freeman and IVAL still has to raise money to build a home.

IVAL is a 501(c) 3 corporation created to support veterans facilities, Crosby said, allocating funding for morale programs like game nights, clothing, food, hygiene products, Christmas present drives, and transportation to medical appointments. With community assistance like the bus donation, IVAL can aid the center and its future residents.

The nonprofit hasn't been able to do any official fundraising, Crosby said, because they've been waiting for a break-ground ceremony, which was also rescheduled due to COVID-19. The center has received some donations, including the bus and recently $1,050 from the Post Falls Eagles. Typically, IVAL will raise funding year-round to save in an endowment fund, which will also be the Post Falls facility plan.

"The home can only pay for the health care of the veteran, so we have to raise other money for activities, personal things that the residents may need," Freeman said. "Our goal is to fill the gaps where the state and federal funding cannot, like the bus."