Montana officials have kicked their work into high gear now that federal funding is finally available to help build the long-delayed southwest Montana Veterans Home and deadlines are looming. About two-thirds of the cost comes from the federal government and nearly remaining third from the state of Montana. Butte-Silver Bow and a private donation make up the rest.
A letter from the Veterans Administration said Montana had to get all of its grant application requirements completed by August 1, 2018. The deadline for its grant application for the federal money had to be received by September 30, 2018 or state officials needed to ask for a conditional grant award by June 30, 2018.
“From a state perspective, we will do everything necessary to make sure that we meet the timelines to get this built including design, bid and construction, said State Budget Director Dan Villa.
He said the Architect and Engineering Department in the Department of Administration is working with CTA Architects to get the designs to the VA for approval.
“So the goal is to be to bid in January of 2019 and then start construction sometime in calendar year 2019,” he said.
The project was first proposed in 1993. Then state-Representative Bob Pavlovich, an Army veteran, was the sponsor of a bill in the Montana Legislature to build a Veterans Home in Butte. His colleagues from Eastern Montana said there was a greater need for them, so Pavlovich amended his bill and the Eastern Montana Veterans Home.
Since that time, Pavlovich has returned to the legislature numerous times to remind lawmakers of that and to tell them it was time for a Southwest Montana Veterans Home, a federal-state cost share.
The 2011 Montana Legislature set aside $5.8 million as its match. Lawmakers also gave the Department of Public Health and Human Services the authority to spend that money for a SW Montana Veterans Home.
Lori Casey, the planning director for Butte-Silver Bow, said the city is providing the infrastructure – roads, water, and sanitary sewer – and absorbing that cost. And the late Don Harrington donated 10 acres of land for what’s to be a 60-bed “cottage style” home. But that donation was contingent on construction starting by 2019 otherwise the land would revert back to the family.
What was missing was the federal piece. While V-A officials had approved the concept and the expenditure, Congress didn’t provide enough money for all of the projects the V-A had evaluated and ranked. Since the Southwest Montana Veterans Home was far down the list, it was left in limbo.
To jump start the project, several lawmakers offered legislation that would give the project a “bridge loan” that would be paid back when the federal money became available. But the bill failed session after session in the Republican-controlled Montana legislature.
“This is an important project for southwestern MT,” said Senator Jon Tester who insisted in this year’s federal budget talks that the V-A get additional money for these health, safety, and new building projects. This includes nearly $9 million for the SW Montana Veterans home, “And it’s something that the people of Butte have been fighting for for a long now. It now appears all signs are go and we are going to get this thing built.”
The Democrat worked with Republican Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Republican Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, a member of the appropriations subcommittee on military construction, to find the money that was eventually put into the so-called “omnibus spending” bill signed into law last March.
“In the end, we were able to get what I think is a good set of projects throughout the country and Butte-Silver Bow is part of that equation,” said Tester who is seeking re-election to a third term this year.
His opponent, Republican state Auditor Matt Rosendale, told Breitbart News last March that the omnibus bills were “nothing more than Christmas trees that are great, big, fat pieces of pork.”
“The people of Montana want to send me to Washington, not to bring home the bacon, but to slaughter the hog,” he told Breitbart in that interview.
So Tester was asked if he considered the SW Montana Veterans Home a pork barrel project?
“No,” he said after a long pause. “As long as we’re talking about my opponent he voted against the veterans home in Butte. He doesn’t want to see it happen.”
Tester said the government needs to live up to the promise it made to veterans.
“Our end of the deal is making sure that they have a place they can retire in dignity and live the later years of their life,” he said.
Rosendale, who’s in Washington, D.C. fundraising and meeting with GOP campaign officials was not available for comment despite repeated requests.
Later, a Rosendale campaign spokesman emailed this statement, “For years, our Montana veterans have heard excuse after excuse from Washington about fully funding and staffing our veteran’s facilities, while Jon Tester denies there’s anything wrong at the V-A. Matt’s just glad that the political games have ended and that federal funding has finally been secured for this home.”