Nursing home space lacking for veterans in Nevada


Here’s something you might care to dwell on with more than just a bit of candor: Hundreds of military veterans in the state who are in need of full-time nursing home care are being turned away from the Nevada State Veterans Home in Boulder City due to insufficient facilities.

And nobody is more distressed by the situation than Frank Bellinger, administrator of the 180-bed Nevada State Veterans Home. The facility is owned and operated by the state, under the purview of the Nevada Office of Veterans Services.

While known as state veterans homes, these facilities began to emerge after the Civil War, with the primary purpose of providing skilled nursing home care.

But the lack of nursing home beds for veterans in Nevada is only half of a problem that has been growing into a dilemma of significant proportion. Once you take a hard look at some of the numbers, you get a better idea of why the situation has become critical.

Nevada has one of the highest percentages of military veterans in any state, according to Sen. Harry Reid, who added that better than one of every eight residents of the state is a veteran. Their population in Nevada has been put at just less than 340,000.

Compare that to the national numbers. There are 22.7 million American veterans, says the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. They’re part of a U.S. population of 317 million, according to the latest Census Bureau estimate. That means one of every 14 Americans is a veteran.

Add on the fact that “Nevada continues to have one of the fastest-growing veterans’ communities in the nation,” Reid said, explaining that their number will continue to grow in Nevada at a rate disproportionate to other states.

Of immediate concern, however, is that Nevada’s only home providing 24-hour nursing care for veterans, spouses of veterans and Gold Star parents has a waiting list that stretches as far as the eye can see.

“We have turned away hundreds of veterans who may qualify for nursing home care during the two years since I have been here,” Bellinger said of the 11-year-old facility. “I have no idea how many were turned away before I came here.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval recently announced that a similar nursing home for veterans, with 90 beds, would be built in Reno.

“That facility is desperately needed in the northern part of the state,” Bellinger said.

“But we need more than that. I believe the northern sector of Las Vegas would be an ideal location for a veterans home,” he added during an interview that followed his recent address before the Sun City Summerlin Residents Forum.

He mentioned several undeveloped sites just north of Summerlin, along the 215 Beltway, and said any of them would be an ideal location.

“One big reason is that those areas are within proximity of the new Veterans Administration hospital in North Las Vegas,” he said, “and that would make it a very suitable area for a veterans home.”

Lack of funding is the biggest problem. The Senior Veterans Service Alliance, a nonprofit that assists needy veterans, says there is a backlog of more than 130 veterans homes unable to be built due to the unavailability of funds.

Once funding is available, however, “the federal government pays 65 percent of the cost through the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Bellinger said. The remainder is matched by the state.

At present there are 140 veterans homes nationwide. Oklahoma and Missouri lead the country with seven homes each.

State veterans homes provide beds for only skilled nursing care and should not be confused with the needs of homeless veterans or those who are unable to make it on their own, Bellinger cautioned.

“Some states have veterans homes that provide both nursing care and assisted living amenities within the same facility. Our home in Boulder provides just full-time nursing home care,” he said.

He emphasized that veterans homes do not provide beds for the homeless.

“That’s a whole different problem. The State of Nevada has an ombudsman program that oversees group homes and other facilities in the community for homeless veterans,” Bellinger said.

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His most recent novel, “Double Play,” is now available. Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.