April 1, 2001
Washington is serving those who served
by Oria Berndt
Our country was attacked on 9/11 and again our military personnel are revered and respected. Old Glory is flying everywhere and patriotism is popular once again. Citizens are kinder to each other and the nation has been drawn together. Recent news of military casualties is spreading and many of us are praying. We see many images of soldiers - young men and women - bound for faraway places, all with the mission of protecting our freedom.
Who are these individuals saying goodbye to their spouses and children and heading off to such uncertainty, all willing to combat the forces of terror for the benefit of ordinary folks like you and I?
Let me tell you, these everyday heroes surround all of us. You know them: the colleague in your office; the retired nurse whose training was done on the battlefield; the man with the flag on his wheelchair; the father whose sleep is interrupted by never-ending battles in foreign fields. What happens to these brave men and women after they've taken care of us? Who takes care of them?
I am proud to say the state of Washington is stepping forward to care for its veterans, but am sad to say that not enough of our needy veterans are aware of the services available. A little known part of our state government provides nursing home care to those who have served our country. Three state veterans homes provide several levels of care to Washington state's veterans who lack the means or family system to provide care. In Western Washington, the Soldiers Home in Orting and the Veterans Home in Retsil (near Port Orchard) offer skilled nursing, assisted living and domiciliary care. Eastern Washington veterans are being served by a skilled nursing facility opened in September 2001. All three facilities accept Medicaid residents and provide various therapies, activities, veteran benefit services and all prescription drugs. While the Western Washington veterans' homes have been in existence for over 100 years, the facilities are in need of renovation. The Washington Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA) is implementing a master plan and has been awarded $47 million to build a new nursing facility in Retsil. When this is complete, sometime in 2005, the mission of the Orting Soldiers Home will begin to shift and will focus on more ambulatory veterans in need of a hand-up to get their lives back on track.
However, until construction is complete in 2005, the Orting Soldiers Home will continue to provide quality nursing home care to about 100 veterans. It's hard to go anywhere without hearing about the state's budget crisis, but the state veterans' homes actually save money for Washington because the veterans' homes qualify for federal reimbursement benefits not available to private nursing homes. The state's commitment to "Serve Those Who Served" goes a long way for our veterans and our state economy. If you or a family member have ever served in the Armed Forces and are in need of long-term care, you can call 1-877-VETS-R-US (1-877-838-7787) to get more information on eligibility requirements.
The admissions team can often process referrals in 24 hours. Or you can log on to www.dva.wa.gov for more information. Thanks to Washington state, those who took care of our country and our many freedoms have not been forgotten.
Mr. Berndt, a Tacoma resident, is chairman of the Governor's Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee, the Non-Commissioned Officers Association's representative on the Veterans Legislative Coalition and a retired command sergeant major from the U.S. Army who served during World War II, Korea and Vietnam.