Alaska Governor Establishes Alaska Veterans Home in Law

(Juneau, Alaska, June 15, 2004) - Governor Frank H. Murkowski today signed into law SB 301, which designates the Palmer Pioneers' Home as a state Veterans Home. "It is outstanding that Alaska has found a viable way to provide a state Veterans Home," Murkowski said. "It took more than two decades of creative thinking and hard work to accomplish, but today we can do more than welcome veterans to our state. Today we can say 'welcome home' to our Alaska veterans."

SB 301 also enables the State of Alaska to access veterans' benefits, Medicaid and other sources to fund the Alaska Pioneer Home system.

The signing ceremony took place at the Palmer Pioneers' Home. "The provisions of this bill serve Alaska veterans and help sustain both the Pioneer Home System and the Alaska Veterans Home for future years," said Health and Social Services Commissioner Joel Gilbertson. "DHSS staff has done a tremendous amount of work on the application to the Veterans Administration, and getting everything planned and ready to start the renovation projects."

Studies and discussions following the passage of Alaska legislation in May 2002 ultimately resulted in an application to the federal Veterans Administration to designate one Pioneer Home as a state Veterans Home. VA representatives visited several Alaska Pioneer Homes and agreed that Palmer is the right size and location to serve veterans. The state's application to the VA proposes a 1-1/2 year project to renovate the Palmer Pioneers' Home to complete deferred maintenance and modernize the facility. Total cost for the project is estimated at $3.5 million, with the 65-percent federal reimbursement, leaving the state responsible for just $1.2 million.

The Alaska Veterans Home occupancy will eventually be 75 percent veterans and 25 percent selected from the Pioneers Home waiting list. Total capacity for the Palmer home is 82. No current resident will be asked to move from the Palmer Pioneers Home, and no veteran will be forced to move to the Home, according to Commissioner Gilbertson.

Veterans who are in other Pioneer Homes may request a transfer to the Palmer Home, and when a bed is available with the level of service they require, the veteran's request for transfer will be accommodated.

SB 301 identifies and secures third-party payments from federal sources to help assure the long-term sustainability of the Alaska Pioneer Home system. Until the enactment of SB 301, residents could not use Medicaid and veterans benefits to pay to stay in a Pioneer Home. Veterans' benefits were only available at certified veterans' homes, and persons living in "public institutions" could not use Medicaid. "We changed that so veterans benefits and Medicaid can be used in Alaska Pioneer Homes," said Gilbertson.

SB 301 is the first step in the development of a new approach for the Veterans Administration, as Alaska is the first state to provide veterans home services outside of a certified veterans' home. Continued discussions with the Veterans Administration will help implement legislation passed by Senator Lisa Murkowski allowing any veteran in any Pioneers Home to receive domiciliary benefits.