BEMIDJI -- Federal funding has been approved for the Bemidji veterans home, bringing the facility closer to reality.

For more than a decade, local officials and advocates have been fighting for a new veterans home to fill a major need in the region. There are an estimated 27,000 veterans living in northwest Minnesota, and nearly 75% of them are older than 55.

The effort to create a veterans home in Bemidji began in 2006 and this week, one of the final pieces of the puzzle was put in place. The United States Department of Veteran Affairs announced conditional approval for construction grants toward veterans homes in Bemidji, Montevideo and Preston, totaling more than $80 million.

“These communities have been working for more than a decade to get this done, and I am glad to see these projects finally nearing the finish line,” U.S. Rep Michelle Fischbach (MN-7), said in a release. “I was honored to support these projects as a member of the Minnesota Senate, and I continue to support them today. They are going to make a big difference for veterans and their families in our state.”

The announcement comes just a few years after the Minnesota Legislature announced its own funding for the three homes. In 2018, a $1.5 billion bonding bill was passed by the Legislature, which included about $33 million for the construction of the homes.

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Of the $33 million, $12.4 million was set aside for Bemidji, $9.4 million for Montevideo and $10.2 million for Preston. The bonding bill passage came two years after a disappointing legislative session for the effort.

In 2016, the Legislature failed to pass a bonding bill altogether, resulting in no state funding for the projects. Then in 2017, the Legislature did pass a $995 billion bonding bill, but veterans home funding wasn't included.

When the state funding was approved in 2018, it launched a local fundraising effort to ensure costs for the home were covered. This was based on the funding formula, where the federal government covers 65% of costs, while state and local governments provide 30%.

Locally, $2.3 million was raised from government units, organizations and private donors. Beltrami County, the government unit pushing for the home, provided $1 million to the project and the city of Bemidji gave $250,000.

"It is satisfying to move ever-closer to seeing shovels in the ground," District 5A Rep. Matt Bliss, R-Pennington, who served from 2017-2018 and was reelected in 2020, said in a release. "I can't tell you how happy I am for veterans in our area who will be able to do their final tour of duty near their families. They have sacrificed so much for us and we owe it to them to provide the services they need. This has been a major community effort and I can't thank people enough who have worked so hard to make this happen."

The home has been estimated at about $42 million and will operate similarly to a nursing home. The facility is expected to have 72 beds, offering long- and short-term care. Plans also include having the facility built with natural elements such as wood and stone, resulting in it getting the name "home in the woods."

"This is a great day for the men and women who have served our country in the armed forces," District 2A Rep. Matt Grossell, R-Clearbrook, who has been in office since 2017, said in a release. "Our area of the state has a desert for this type of facility and now our heroes, who were sent around the world to serve our country, can get the care and treatment they need closer to home."

District 5 Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, who was elected in 2016, said "this is fantastic news for our veterans and our entire region. Getting this project built has been one of my top priorities since joining the Legislature. A lot of great work has been done to get this project funded and I am beyond delighted to play a part in helping support our veterans. Our veterans deserve to be honored for the tremendous sacrifices they have made for our country."