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Editorial: Willmar needs to unite on vet home

Willmar and Kandiyohi County officials and area legislators are participating Monday in a town hall meeting to discuss a proposed 90-bed veterans home in Willmar.

The public and officials will have a chance to discuss the proposed veterans home with Gil Acevedo, Minnesota's deputy director for veterans' health care.

The proposed $21 million project is for a 90-bed veterans nursing home specializing in geriatric care for veterans with severe mental health illness. The facility could also provide inpatient care for veterans with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorders or veterans with dual diagnosis of mental illness and chemical dependency.

City and county officials have been working on this proposed veterans home for more than five years now. For the past two years, the proposal has stalled in the Legislature as project funding has passed in the House several times in recent years, but has not yet passed in the Senate.

Willmar City Council member Jim Dokken continues to seek a traditional veterans home in Willmar. An Air Force veteran himself, Dokken is a strong advocate for veterans. However, other Minnesota communities, such as Montevideo, are seeking traditional veterans homes and the state already has five veterans homes located in Fergus Falls, Hastings, Luverne, Silver Bay and Minneapolis.

Local officials need to be careful as they lobby state officials for this project. It is important that this project meet not only the needs of the veterans, but the needs of Willmar.

Willmar already has a number of private businesses providing adequate nursing home beds for the city and county. A traditional veterans home would take needed revenue from these private businesses, thus only replicating a private service that already exists.

The proposed project would specialize in veterans with severe mental illnesses, traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder. These are significant needs for current veterans, both elderly and younger. Willmar also has a long history in mental health care.

It is critical that all city and county officials get together behind the current project as proposed. Without a united front of appropriate community support, Willmar could easily lose out and this veterans home facility could be located elsewhere.