BEMIDJI – There’s currently no commitment to build a veterans home here, but there could be a need for one.
That was the assessment of Mike Gallucci, the deputy commissioner of veterans health care at the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, at a Saturday morning meeting of the veterans home task force.
Gallucci said he believes there is a good chance of finding a location for a new veterans home somewhere in the state within the current biennium.
“I’m not going to commit to you to say, ‘This is the location,’” Gallucci said. “However, we believe there is a considerable amount of merit to the Bemidji area needing to receive a home here.”
Gallucci heard from local officials who have been working for years to bring a veterans home to the area. They cite the large number of underserved veterans nearby and long distances to other homes as proof of the need here.
Gallucci said his department is looking at potentially crafting a statewide master plan that would assess where to put veterans homes, as more legislators make the case for a home in their districts. He said there are about 874 people on a waiting list to get into a veterans home, and six communities are vying to build one.
“There is no doubt a need for more veterans homes, but they’re an expensive venture,” Gallucci said. There is no plan currently being worked on, but Gallucci said he feels it would be “prudent” thing to do.
DFL Sen. Tom Saxhaug as well as DFL Reps. Roger Erickson and John Persell also attended Saturday’s gathering.
Persell introduced a bill to the Legislature last month to appropriate $250,000 for predesign work on a 90-bed veterans home in Bemidji. Last year, Sanford Health announced it was donating 15 acres of land for the project.
County Commissioner Jim Lucachick, who has been working on the home’s design, referred to the plans that exist today as “napkin sketches” and said the predesign money would help bring those designs to the next step.
“We have a lot of requirements we need to fulfill for the federal government,” Lucachick said. “The key in architecture is making sure the things that are required by the funding sources have to be included.”
Persell previously said the home’s construction would cost about $30 million, with two-thirds coming from the federal government.
Gallucci encouraged the task force to assess the needs of the local veteran population and how the facility will address them before making a pitch to the state.
“Understand your community of veterans and not just the desire and build that argument,” Gallucci said. “And say to them, ‘What do you got that’s better than that?’”
“Come to the fight ready.”