By David Lias
They were once commonly known as old soldiers’ homes – a military veteran’s retirement home, nursing home, or hospital, or sometimes even an institution for the care of the widows and orphans of a nation’s soldiers, sailors, and marines.
South Dakota has one.
The Dakota Territorial Legislature, in 1889, passed a bill establishing the Dakota Soldiers’ Home to be located in Hot Springs. The bill carried an appropriation of $45,000 for construction. The object of the home was to provide the care and subsistence for veterans and their wives and widows who meet eligibility requirements for admission to the home.
The cornerstone of the first building was placed on Nov. 11, 1889. This building remains in service and houses the home’s administrative offices and recreational facilities.
This “old soldiers’ home” will be the major topic of discussion when the South Dakota Legislature meets in special session on June 22 to deal with cost overruns in the construction of a new State Veterans Home in Hot Springs.
The Legislature earlier this year approved a bill authorizing the spending of $41.3 million in state and federal money to build the new home. But Daugaard says when bids from contractors were opened recently, the lowest bid was considerably above projections. He says that will lead to a total project cost of $51.3 million.
The special session is needed because the state can’t wait until the next legislative session in January to deal with the issue.
The governor, while in Vermillion last week, told reporters that he expects state lawmakers will grumble about the extra funding, but will approve the needed expenditures.
We hope, during their short time in Pierre this month, that lawmakers thoroughly take into account what is about to happen. Because there’s no undoing a $50 million investment once it’s made.
And we’re not convinced Hot Springs is the best place to make that investment.
In fact, we’re not convinced, in today’s modern era, that an “old soldiers’ home” is the best way to provide health care to our veterans.
We have to believe that state lawmakers and other government officials had all of this in mind, too, when it became apparent that the current Hot Springs facility had grown inadequate.
A 2009 study conducted for the South Dakota Department of Military and Veterans Affairs noted that a new facility for veterans would be needed if the state was to stay in the business of providing long term care to veterans.
It also pointed out that the Hot Springs location does not provide uniform access to veterans across the state. The study notes that over the next 20 years, South Dakota’s veteran population will shift towards Rapid City and Sioux Falls. It also estimates that the number of veterans requiring long term care services will double in the Rapid City region by 2030.
The study concluded that replacement of the existing state veterans home with a new 100-bed skilled nursing facility could result in net savings to the state, while improving service to veterans.
We realize the state is shackled, somewhat, to a host of federal regulations and standards while dealing with this issue. It must follow federal guidelines because nearly half of the new construction’s cost will be paid by funds coming from Washington, not Pierre.
We’re happy that veterans will be getting a new facility. We’re happy that a more modern structure and equipment will, once completed, save the state substantial money and provide a greater level of health care.
We can’t help but believe, however, that keeping the veterans home in a rather isolated area of southwest South Dakota is not the best way to serve our veterans.
The study noted that the number of veterans in western South Dakota over the age of 85, which numbered 1,043 in 2005, is expected to reach 1,903 by 2030. Minnehaha County will see a 20 percent rise in veterans over the age of 85.
We hope there will be sufficient explanations made, when this issue is soon addressed in Pierre, that justifies keeping the facility in Hot Springs rather than moving it to Rapid City, where a new state veterans home could be developed as an addition to a private, existing health care establishment there.