PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Jack Reed on Friday expressed concern about issues plaguing the R.I. Veterans Home, saying the state should exhaust all other options before asking residents to pay more to live there.
The senior member of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation – who helped steer about $60 million in federal funds toward constructing the $121 million facility – told Target 12 there are “some serious issues at the Veterans Home in Bristol,” which opened less than three years ago.
Reed, a West Point graduate, served as a paratrooper in the Army.
“You just ask yourself, ‘Why were some of these issues not anticipated in terms of funding, the stream of funding, et cetera?’” Reed said. “That’s the question that comes to my mind now.”
The nursing home for nearly 200 wartime veterans is currently grappling with a $2 million operating deficit, one of many recently revealed problems at the facility. As Target 12 first reported on Monday, the new building was constructed with doors not wide enough for some wheelchairs, expensive equipment goes unused and visually aesthetic rooms sit empty.
The facility’s crown jewel – an eye-grabbing dining hall at the center of the home – has served more as a venue for lavish parties thrown for free by outside groups than as a galley for residents.
Target 12 first started reporting about issues at the home beginning around Veterans Day in November. Since then, Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo has called in the R.I. National Guard to help shore up operations, the home’s administrator has resigned, and the General Assembly has held several hearings to try and sort out the mess.
The second-term governor last month proposed closing the multimillion-dollar deficit in part by asking residents to pay 100% of their monthly income to live there instead of the 80% they pay now. In return, residents’ monthly stipends would double to $300, and copays for occupational and physical therapy would be covered.
Reed was critical of the proposal and said the state should look elsewhere for the money.
“There is a [cost] sharing by the veterans already and my instincts, although I’m not involved in state budget negotiations, would be to look at other ways to fix these financial issues,” Reed told Target 12. “The last resort would be to impose more costs to veterans, so I think they have to fully exhaust every other opportunity and they might find they can satisfy the costs.”
The senator, who serves as the ranking member of the U.S. Armed Services Committee, isn’t the only powerful Rhode Island elected officials that’s expressed criticism of the governor’s proposal. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, whose chamber leads the vetting of the budget, said last month there’s no good reason to change the 80% cost to veterans.
“Because it’s such an important constituency – people who have served us so hard at such a great cost – I will tell them they can rest assured that the General Assembly will remember your commitment and not do what’s proposed in this budget,” Mattiello said on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers.
How the financial and operational issues are resolved could be answered in the coming months as lawmakers craft a final budget for next fiscal year. And while Reed said federal involvement ended after the multimillion-dollar capital contribution to help build the facility, he is nonetheless likely to watch what happens closely.
“The question now is how do you adequately maintain it and how do you ensure veterans are treated not only fairly, but they’re not subject to excessive charges,” Reed said. “That’s going to require the state to look very closely at revenue sources and other programs and not do it at the expense of the veterans.”