By Mannix Porterfield
Veterans living out their final days face a bigger bite out of their monthly income to maintain in-home care at the nursing facility in Clarksburg, lawmakers learned Tuesday.
As of Feb. 1, the home will take 80 percent of their monthly income up to a maximum $3,000, Veterans Assistance Secretary Keith Gwinn disclosed.
Since the home opened its doors five years ago, veterans have been turning over 65 percent of their income, up to $2,300 per month, he told the Select Committee on Veterans Affairs.
In Kentucky, he noted, veterans are assessed up to $3,700 a month, while it stands at a $3,360 maximum in South Dakota.
“Most states do a rate increase every year,” Gwinn told the panel.
“We haven’t for five years.”
Gwinn said the hike would produce an increase in the facility’s revenues by $1.4 million and allow the state to keep in sync with the formula for nursing home care — one-third of the costs born by the federal government, the state and individual veterans.
Some lawmakers questioned the increase, and one of them asked Gwinn to provide comparative rates for private nursing facilities.
On average, a veteran will be paying about $300 additional per month to stay in the Clarksburg facility, he noted.
Gwinn emphasized, upon questioning by Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, that the increase doesn’t apply to the veterans home in Barboursville. In that facility, veterans surrender 50 percent of their monthly income.
“Since we’re one of the lowest per capita incomes in the United States, how do we rate with all states that have nursing homes?” asked the committee’s co-chairman, Delegate Richard Iaquinta, D-Harrison.
“Our per capita income in West Virginia for veterans is definitely not as much as it is in Virginia, or maybe Ohio, which has a larger pool of people, or Pennsylvania, to draw upon.”
Moreover, Iaquinta pointed out that many veterans in the home made a career out of the military.
“The pensions of the ‘60s, the ‘70s and ‘80s were a whole lot different than they were once we got into the new pay grades, when we went to an all-volunteer military,” the co-chairman said.
Gwinn said the facility faces annual expenses of $12 million and cannot make it without additional revenue.
If rates aren’t raised, he said, “We’re going to fall behind and have to ask the Legislature for money to operate the facility.”
Even with the rate boost, Gwinn said, “This still puts us way under over half the states for what they charge.”
The home is at full capacity with 114 veterans, representing all regions of the state, Gwinn said.
Committee members approved legislation that would add a veterans advocate on every college campus in the state, and not penalize veterans with grade cuts if they’re called to active duty.
One advocate, however, wants the Legislature to go even further.
Dan Alexander, president of the West Virginia University Student Veterans, pitched legislation that would allow priority registration for veterans.
“This would allow them to sign up for classes ahead of the general population, so they can get the classes they need,” he told the committee.
Another advantage is that the veterans could meet timelines for government benefits, Alexander said.
And, if out-of-state residents are relying on the G.I. Bill for 50 percent of their education costs, and need a semester to complete a degree, they would only be charged at the in-state rate, he said.
“It will make it a little bit easier to graduate veterans,” he said of the proposals.
“And that’s our goal.”
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org