A proposed change to funding regulations could put Flagstaff on the fast track to receiving funding for a veterans home, city leaders said.
“This change will directly benefit northern Arizona, and all rural communities in the United States,” Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans said.
The proposed regulation changes would incorporate a consideration for veterans in rural areas into the ranking priorities for grant applications. The current funding formula prioritizes veteran demographics and nursing home and in-home care needs within a state, which can make it difficult for rural areas to compete for VA State Home Construction Grants, the Department of Veterans Affairs said in a press release.
“We want to remove the red tape,” VA Secretary David Shulkin said in a press release. “Veterans in rural areas need to be able to get nursing home care when it’s needed as close as possible to their homes, families and friends. Changes in VA regulations can save families from having to travel long distances to visit a loved one in a facility far from home.”
Evans said the change “puts us in an even better position” to receive funding, and said the existing formula was “skewed” to advantage more urban areas and bigger cities.
“The change allows rural places to compete on an even playing field,” Evans said.
A veterans home is especially appropriate in Flagstaff due to the city’s proximity to the Navajo and Hopi reservations, Evans said.
“Native American people have served in the armed forces at a higher rate than any other group,” Evans said.
According to the VA press release, the department expects the changes to be completed by the end of 2017. The changes will then be available for public comment.
The city originally discussed donating the land to create the home on McMillan Mesa in 2015, but Evans had been researching the possibility since 2011. In May 2016, Gov. Doug Ducey approved the appropriation of $10 million to help fund the construction of the home.
When Evans and other members of the Flagstaff City Council traveled to Washington, D.C., they spoke with both Arizona senators and other VA staff about the need for a home in Flagstaff.
“John McCain and Jeff Flake have been extremely helpful in moving this forward, as well as VA administration in D.C.,” Evans said.
Evans said Flagstaff is already ranked first in priority for a new facility, and said the change could give the project the boost it needs for funding. She said Yuma also has a veterans home project in the works, and the changes could help them secure funding as well.
“The VA in Washington understands that veterans, wherever veterans live, deserve services,” she said.
The city must now wait for the federal budget to be approved. Once the funding is approved at the federal level, Evans said it is expected to take two to three years to build the home.
Evans said she and former Councilman Jeff Oravits worked together on helping the project move forward.
“He truly was a driving force,” Evans said. “We worked together on this and it’s exciting to be at this point in the process.”