Shelby County is home to nearly 65,000 veterans, the largest concentration of veterans in the state of Tennessee. Yet the county doesn't have a state-run nursing home for their long-term care.
But West Tennessee Veterans Home, Inc., a group of retired and active members of the military and their supporters, have launched a campaign to raise $23 million toward a $60 million, 144-bed home to serve veterans in Shelby, Fayette, and Tipton counties.
The Veterans Administration has pledged to provide the rest of the $60 million once the $23 million has been raised locally. Once constructed, operation of the facility would fall under the auspices of the state government.
"I want to see the community show the highest care as part of the dignity toward veterans in their last days or even if they just need temporary care. That's my dream," said Ed Wallin, a Vietnam veteran and vice president of West Tennessee Veterans Home, Inc. "I was a Catholic chaplain in the 101st Airborne Division. After the horrors I saw and heard about, I swore I'd dedicate my whole life to veterans."
Since Shelby County doesn't have a nursing home specifically for veterans, the Veterans Administration sends those who need long-term care to approved nursing homes in the area. But Wallin has seen firsthand that treatment in some of these homes isn't top-notch.
"I have a friend who was in Vietnam with me, and now he has Parkinson's disease. His power-of-attorney has had to pull him out of two approved nursing homes because they weren't taking the best care of him," Wallin said. "The care we could give him in a veterans' care home would be superlative compared to what these private nursing homes offer."
The Tennessee State Veterans Board has budgeted staffing levels to provide four hours of one-on-one patient care per day versus the state's requirement of only two hours at a private facility. Similar homes are already operating in Knoxville and Humboldt, and Clarksville recently broke ground on theirs.
The Shelby County home would be designed as a "community living center," a newer style of nursing home that is built as a modular campus rather than as a hospital-like facility. Each resident would have his or her own apartment-like bedroom and private bathroom, and his or her spouse or caregiver can live there too. There would also be a community room for socializing.
"When I go into a nursing home to visit, it's very depressing," Wallin said. "But when I go into a veterans' home and see all these veterans communicating with one another, it's just wonderful. It's a happy atmosphere."
Wallin said West Tennessee Veterans Home, Inc. has raised about $10,000 of its $23 million goal so far. They are looking at three potential sites in the county for the buildout.
"One-third of our veterans are over 65, and two out of three may end up somewhere in the nursing home system," Wallin said. "The need is there, and we need to give them the best care in the world. They deserve that as our gratitude to them."For more information on making a donation, visit www.veterans-home.com.