Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Time is Running Out to Build a SW MT Veterans Home

Jackie Yamanaka

Veterans lined up to deliver emotional testimony in support of a Southwest Montana Veterans home.  They’re seeking a so-called “bridge loan” to begin construction before time runs out.

“We’re at a point where if we don’t get it done this (Legislative) session all of the work to get this built is wasted,” said Navy Veteran and registered nurse Tom Goyette. He said if construction doesn’t start by 2019 the land donated by Don Harrington will revert back to the family.

The state and local dollars to build this facility have been raised, the Veterans Administration already has authorized funding for the project, and it is on the V-A’s priority list. All that is missing to begin construction is that federal money. Backers of this bill are asking the state for a loan that would be repaid when that federal money arrives.

Credit Jackie Yamanaka
Former Representative Bob Pavlovich, D-Butte, enjoys a moment in the Senate Minority office with a delegation of veterans before testifying in favor of a SW Montana Veterans home. Pavlovich was the sponsor of a bill to create this facility in the 1993 Legislative session. He agreed with a request from then Governor Marc Racicot to amend his bill to move the facility to Glendive because the need was so great in Eastern Montana.

The history for a southwest Montana Veteran’s home actually goes back to 1993. During that legislative session, lawmakers approved the project and appropriated money for a facility. The bill was later amended, with the sponsor’s blessing, to build the veterans home instead in Glendive because the need was greater in Eastern Montana. It was done with the understanding that veterans in Southwest Montana would, in the future, get their facility.

Debate began in earnest during the 2009 session after a site in Butte was selected. The design called for a more homey, cottage-like environment that would house 5 individuals. 

Senator Duane Ankney, a Vietnam Veteran, said it was designed with a younger veteran in mind.

“The veteran that is maybe only 25 years old. The IEDs, being deployed in these combat zones is an entirely different veteran. This home is needed,” said Ankney.

The Republican from Colstrip said the time for debate is over. In past legislatures, even some opponents agreed a facility was needed. However, they insisted it should be paid for with cash on hand, not borrow through bonding. That started an ideological battle that’s cast the recent pall over an infrastructure bill. It irks Ankney, a former chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

“If we can find money for everything else that we don’t owe anything to. We certainly should be able to find money for veterans that we owe everything to,” he said his voice shaking with emotion.

Veteran Melvin Kieninger called out those who think saying “thank you” to a veteran is enough. He called for action. Now.

“Support this bill,” he said. “If you turn this bill down and don’t work toward this Montana veterans home you’re basically telling them that their service didn’t count.”

The loan for this facility is among the infrastructure projects in House Bill 14, commonly called “the bonding bill.”  Other capital projects vying for funding include for the Montana Heritage Center and Romney Hall at Montana State University.

The Appropriations Subcommittee on Long Range Planning is take executive action on HB 14 February 9, 2017.