Commission nixes Monticello’s hope of new veterans’ home

Tuesday’s meeting with the Arkansas Veteran’s Commission proved to be disappointing for Monticello and Drew County as the top three picks for a new 120 bed veteran’s retirement facility went to sites in Central Arkansas.

Nita McDaniel, Monticello Economic Development Commission director who wrote the proposal, said the commissioners at the meeting wanted the location of the new facility in Central Arkansas so that it would replace the old facility, which was condemned earlier this year and torn down.

The top three sites chosen were North Little Rock, Jacksonville, and Searcy.

However, McDaniel said the commission’s recommendation is just that: a recommendation.

Bob Schoenborn, chairman of the 15-member Arkansas Veterans’ Home Commission, said the recommendations were not binding and that state Department of Veterans Affairs Director Cissy Rucker would still have the final say on where the facility is located. “I hope that Veterans’ Affairs Director Cissy Rucker can see the value in what we have to offer,” McDaniel said. “We offer a place that’s healing for the spirit as well as the body.”

“I’ve seen the sites … I know what they are, I know where they are and I know the people we’ve worked with,” said Rucker. “I want to get this moving. I feel very good that we’ve got this moving and the commission going.”

McDaniel said Monticello’s proposal did get an honorable mention. She said the commission said it was a good proposal, and that the site couldn’t help “its unfortunate geographical location.”

However McDaniel said she feels like our geographical location is a positive and not a negative.

“Only 26 percent of the state’s veterans live in central Arkansas,” McDaniel said. “That means that 74 percent of the state’s veterans choose not live in Central Arkansas. That alone tells me those who can afford to choose, choose not live in Central Arkansas.”

McDaniel further stated that when she’s asked veterans where they want to retire, none of them say Central Arkansas.

“I hope that Sissy Rucker sees the value in that,” McDaniel said. “I’m tired of us getting looked over because of our geographical location.”

McDaniel said she knows without a doubt Monticello’s proposal was the best. She said should our site not be named this round, the work will not be in vain because there’s a need for more than 120 beds in Arkansas.

“The federal government says our state can have 600 beds for veterans,” McDaniel said. “We currently have no beds and this new facility will have only 120 beds. That means (Veteran’s Affairs) will look for another site and we will be ready.”

Rucker said five design firms have been selected as finalists to design the new veterans home. The five will be interviewed by Rucker and three others on a selection panel Jan. 15-17.

The Legislature this year approved $7.5 million in state funding for the $22 million project to replace the old veterans home in Little Rock that was closed last year after failing building and health inspections. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has approved $14.5 million for the project.

 McDaniel said that Rucker’s formal announcement of where the veteran’s home will be located will be later this week.

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