Sussex County Delaware

Reps Want Veterans
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Guest Opinion

Say County Logical Choice
for State Veterans' Facility
By
JOHN ATKINS
-- State Rep., 41st District, R-Millsboro
GERALD HOCKER -- State Rep., 37th District, R-Ocean View
JOE BOOTH -- State Rep. 36th District, R-Georgetown

Delaware needs a veterans home and it should be built in Sussex County.

The First State is nearly the last state without a facility to provide long-term care for its former service personnel. In fact, Delaware is one of only three states -- and the only one in the Continental 48 -- that does not have a veterans home within its borders.

According to the U.S. Veterans Administration, there are 84,289 veterans in Delaware. Of that total, nearly 21,000 reside in Sussex County with another 16,574 living in Kent County. About one-of-every-nine Delawareans is a veteran.

While some areas are seeing a decline in veterans, the number of Delaware veterans is on the rise. Between the U.S. Census in 1990 and 2000, Delaware's veteran population grew by eight percent. Compared to 13 years ago, at least 6,200 more veterans call Delaware home today - more than the total current populations of Georgetown and Rehoboth Beach combined!

Largely, veterans are an aging population that will need healthcare services in the future. Approximately 60 percent of Delaware's veterans performed their service during World War II or in Korea or Vietnam. That means a large group of men and women who are over the age of 50, many considerably older.

While Sussex County does not have the greatest number of veterans, it is arguably the home (and destination) for many of the oldest members of this group. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, our county has the highest median age in Delaware at 41.1. About 18.5 percent of Sussex County residents are 65 years of age or older -- far outpacing New Castle (11.6 percent) and Kent (11.7 percent) counties.

With an aging population, that only promises to grow in the future, siting a veterans home in Sussex County would be prudent and visionary. It not only recognizes the existing demographic trends, but it capitalizes on Sussex's high quality-of-life. The attributes that led to our county growing by more than 38 percent in the last decade will help attract and retain quality healthcare workers to staff a veterans home.

A study by the University of Delaware indicates that there is enough demand to make a 150-bed facility feasible. Of course, the main stumbling block is funding.

While a new law creating a tax return check-off to help fund the veterans home is appropriate, it's not expected to generate significant revenue. Its value is mainly symbolic.

Building a 150-bed facility will cost nearly $29 million, 65 percent of which will be covered by the federal government. That still leaves the state with a bill of about $10 million -- not a small number when Delaware is facing a slow economy and a projected budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year.

We pledge to do whatever is in our power to secure the funding for this worthy project and to ensure that the benefits of a Sussex County venue are seriously considered.

Sincerely,
State Rep. John Atkins
State Rep. Joe Booth
State Rep. Gerald Hocker


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