Plan for vets facility stalls; Juhnke says sens. do not support bill
WILLMAR -- A funding bill for a veterans home in Willmar has stalled out in the Minnesota Legislature and is unlikely to see any further action before the session ends next week.
"At the end of the day, frankly, we could not get the senators to support it," Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willm-ar said.
The House has approved the 90-bed facility in both its bonding bill and omnibus bill, said Juhnke.
There weren't enough votes from the Senate, however, to keep the project moving forward, he said.
The news came as a blow Thursday to the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, which has been pushing for the past couple of years for a facility where veterans could receive geriatric and mental health care.
"We're deeply disappointed," said Steve Renquist, executive director of the Economic Development Commission.
He and members of the commission's Joint Operations Board said they'd keep fighting.
"Unless the board tells us to back off, staff here won't back off," Renquist said.
"From my point of view, we haven't lost the battle," agreed board member Milan Schmiesing. "The battle isn't over yet."
Juhnke said Thursday that the project is still alive, but legislative approval might take more time.
Language was inserted in the bill to keep it listed as a priority project, he said.
"We're still playing the game," he said. "I've learned down here sometimes it takes a few years to get things done."
The proposal would create and help fund a nursing home in Willmar for veterans, providing not only long-term skilled care but geriatric mental health services as well. The state has already spent $150,000 on a study and predesign.
Local supporters also want to develop a model that would include services for a growing population of veterans with traumatic brain injury, chemical dependency and other mental health-related issues.
"This is much more than housing of veterans. This is housing and treatment for veterans for a pervasive problem that is only going to increase," Renquist said.
At a recent meeting in Willmar for area veterans, support for such a project was near-unanimous.
"They really want to work with this and they understand the need," Juhnke said.
State veterans service providers are planning a series of meetings with Willmar-area providers this summer to start developing a concept for how a geriatric mental health and traumatic brain injury program for veterans might look, he said.
A study, to be completed by the beginning of July, also is being undertaken to look at veterans' needs in the rest of outstate Minnesota.