“The biggest challenge we have is getting the word out to people who are eligible for benefits and do not know it,” McDaris said. “If a person was in Vietnam for one day, they are presumed to be exposed to the Agent Orange herbicide used. There are now 14 conditions that the VA has said can be caused by Agent Orange.”
McDaris said a veteran of Vietnam can apply for benefits as long as their health conditions match up with any of the 14 conditions caused by Agent Orange. A veteran will receive benefits based on how many conditions they meet. The levels of need are shown in 10 percent increments. Every 10 percent represents $127 a month, tax-free.
“We have some veterans who are pulling in 100 percent each month,” McDaris said. “Veterans Affairs keeps adding things — I am just using Vietnam as an example. Last year, they added three more conditions. These were Parkinson’s Disease, a form of leukemia, and systemic heart disease.”
McDaris asked the Kiwanis Club to help him spread the word before he began speaking about the potential veterans home in Bradley County. Local leaders have been attempting to establish one since 2003.
“The purpose of a VA home is to provide a home for the veterans in our state who have served our country honorably and are in need of long-term care,” McDaris said. “The intent is to assist residents in reaching and maintaining their maximum level of functioning. Quality of life to the highest degree possible is what we are looking for.”
There are currently three state-owned nursing home facilities for veterans in Tennessee. A veterans’ home in Montgomery County will be the fourth. McDaris said the Bradley County veterans home was behind Montgomery in building priorities last year, at 58. He said he hopes this will move the project higher on the priority list.
According to McDaris, all of the requirements for the home were met in 2010. The project needed not only the necessary funds, but also land. McDaris said this was accomplished when Steve and Thomas Williams and Robin Wright and their families donated about 20 acres off of APD 40 near the coat factory. This allowed the project to be eligible for federal funding.
“We are just waiting on federal funding. Each year, the VA comes out with a construction priority list. Each project on there is under priority numbers starting at No. 1,” McDaris said. “Safety issues come first, followed by renovations and repairs. New projects come in third.”
The donated land must be approved by the state. There must be a number of studies completed including environmental and cultural. American Legion Post 81 is currently paying the taxes while the studies are being completed.
According to McDaris, a designer was recently hired to draw up the plans for the building. The plans are necessary for funding to be received, as well.
“The VA is on the cutting edge of skill-level care. ... They have gone to the private-room concept with a home/life environment. There are living rooms, dining rooms, and places families can use to visit the residents,” McDaris said.
The square footage was dramatically increased due to the changes. There will be 108 beds, with rooms spread between several small buildings versus one large facility. McDaris said there is more than enough space on the donated land.
McDaris is excited about the project and is hopeful federal funding will come through. For more information on veteran benefits, look up veterans services under departments at bradleyco.net.