Column: Veterans home to help economy

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It is not very often 100 new family-wage jobs are created in the Walla Walla Valley with one project. Yet this is the case with the announcement last week that the long sought after Veterans Home has been fully funded.

The 80-bed facility, encompassing some 82,000 square feet, will be a complex of small houses on the VA campus. It will provide care to aging veterans and surviving spouses.

The state of Washington is providing $12 million in funding. The federal Veteran Affairs is providing $23 million.

Construction should commence in the spring 2015. If all goes well, the facility should be completed by the summer 2016.

When completed and ready to staff, 100 new jobs will be created. Many of these new jobs will be in the health care field and will add some $5 million in new payroll to the Walla Walla Valley.

The multiplier effect of these payroll dollars being spent with local merchants will add to Walla Walla’s economic vitality.

While the new facility will be referred to as the Walla Walla Veterans Home, it is not exclusive for Walla Walla veterans. The facility is being built to serve a 10-county area primarily in Southeastern Washington and Northeastern Oregon. This area encompasses some 50,000 veterans. The veteran population aged 65 or older is estimated at 20,000.

There is an acute need for more veteran home beds in Eastern Washington. The regional aspect of this facility adds to the economic benefits to Walla Walla as family members travel here to visit relatives living in the Walla Walla Veterans Home.

The state-owned Veterans Home will have ongoing operating costs of $6.8 million per year. However, the facility will operate without needing state general fund appropriations.

The operating costs will be generated through Medicaid, VA Per Diem, Medicare and local contributions.

So why did Walla Walla secure the Veterans Home and not one of the other nine counties in our service area?

It helped that we already had a large VA campus and surplus property upon to which to construct the new facility. However our big advantage was our community had an active coalition made up of public and private agencies and veteran groups that worked hard to secure the Veterans Home.

Sen. Patty Murray said it best last week when she was announcing federal funding for the project: “There are few communities in our entire country that offer more passion and support for our veterans than Walla Walla.”

The local Veterans Coalition has been led by the city of Walla Walla. The mayor, City Council members and city administration deserve our thanks and appreciation.

The Port of Walla Walla has also been supportive. The city, the county and the Port were a united voice in Olympia and Washington, D.C., in advocating for this project.

This project would not have been possible without the help of our 16th district legislators. Sen. Mike Hewitt and Reps. Maureen Walsh and Terry Nealey were instrumental in securing the state funding.

On the congressional level U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray were helpful in securing federal funding.

Everyone involved in this project recognizes that Sen. Murray was the guiding force in making this project a reality. She used her position on the Senate Budget Committee and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to make sure federal funding was provided for this project.

When federal funding was delayed last year and the project was at risk of not moving forward, Sen. Murray would not take no for an answer and through her tireless efforts federal funding was restored.

Port Commissioner Peter Swant is serving his first term on the Port Commission. His district encompasses more than half of the city of Walla Walla and the Stateline area. Swant is a real estate agent for Coldwell Banker First Realtors. He also worked 29 years in his family grocery store business, Wade’s Red Apple Market.

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