To the Editor;
As Veteran's Day draws closer, it is a good opportunity to think about our veterans, the men and women on whose efforts our freedoms rest. When I was growing up in northern Vermont in the 1960s it seemed that everyone's parent was a veteran. But it wasn't until my own son was old enough to enter military service that I understood the true depth of sacrifice made by those in the American armed forces.
All Vermonters should visit the Veteran's Home in Bennington and spend some time listening to the residents there. I had the good fortune to visit the Veterans Home in Bennington with Manchester resident Representative Steve Berry. My interest in American history and his in the spiritual and physical well being of his constituents led us there. The visit gave me an understanding of what the needs of these residents are and how the state of Vermont can do more to help them.
Helping our veterans is of special interest to Representative Berry. His father was Captain Edward Andrew Berry, a combat veteran of both World War II and Korea. Captain Berry flew hundreds of missions in the belly of the B-29 Flying Fortress as a navigator and was decorated for his service. Among other recognitions, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross. There is certainly a lot of history to learn from the experiences of those who have served their country.
Concerns were raised at the statehouse last winter when members of the administration were voiced interest in shutting down the Veterans Home. The average cost of caring for a Veteran at the Home is about $450 per day. Reimbursements cover about $350 per day. So the Vets Home annual budget typically is approximately in need of about 20-25 percent additional revenue to augment their budget. That needed revenue should come from the state of Vermont.
The Board of the Veterans Home has made prudent decisions to reduce costs including reducing staff numbers and reducing the number of licensed beds from 171 to 130. But it's not enough to make ends meet. Simply put, Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements have not kept pace with the rising cost of delivering care. Some revenue comes from donations but there will be a budget gap this year of approximately $5 million. A bill is being prepared to propose this amount be covered by the General Fund.
Rep. Berry and I have been researching the amount of revenue needed. We've inquired at the Vets Home and the Statehouse Joint Fiscal Office. Our meeting with officials at the Veterans Home focused on financial information and helping us prepare to speak with our colleagues in the House of Representatives on how to ensure the $5 million for the Veterans Home. Our proposal would come from the state General Fund and go to the Veteran's Home to cover costs of caring for elderly or disabled veterans without increase in tax.
Words like freedom and sacrifice mean more than can properly be expressed with words. The soldiers now in the Veteran's Home in Bennington know first hand what the words mean. And so do the Vermont families who have servicemen and women currently serving.
Rep. Berry said to me once,'If we desire to be a just and moral society, we cannot ignore those who need help. Therefore, our elderly veterans of WWII, our Vietnam Vets and those returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere must be counted among the numbers of those not to be neglected. Every American citizen helps subsidize American wars. We cannot do our veterans the disservice of not caring for them when they return from war.'
Please join with our efforts to make sure our elderly Veteran's have what they need for comfort and care. Please encourage your state representatives and senators to support the effort sponsored by Manchester resident Rep. Steve Berry to provide adequate funding for the Veteran's Home.
Rep. Carolyn Branagan
Vermont House of Representatives