"We need a new home. There’s no question about it,” decorated Army Veteran Ed Hanrahan, 92, said of the Rhode Island Veterans Home, which is located in Bristol.
State officials are in agreement, as they are seeking support of a $94 million bond for improvements. Anticipated federal funds would offset the total by about $23 million.
The issue will be on the ballot as Question 4 Tuesday. If approved, a veteran like Hanrahan will no longer have to live in a building with extensive mold, a roof with leaks and that is desperately in need of other repairs and expansion.
According to Ginny Hanson, president of the Permanent Advisory Council to the House of Veterans Affairs and a Navy veteran, the home currently houses 201 veterans. It used to house approximately 245, but due to damage, two wings were closed this winter. Two hundred and sixty beds remain in six long-term care units, as well as two ambulatory care units with 79 beds.
Because the need is so great, Hanson said, the home began accepting new residents in September. Residents are Rhode Island veterans who are the most vulnerable.
Many veterans return home after serving the country with mental disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and other health issues. Plenty of them return disabled, as well.
If approved, said Hanson, who has been a volunteer for the home for “quite a few years” and visits three to four times each week, the existing 110-acre building at 480 Metacom Avenue will be modernized to better suit their needs, as it would be able to house more vets, along with new technology.
“The technology cannot fit in the building – the equipment to help the men and women coming in with no limbs, mental issues and PTSD,” Hanson said. “It takes a lot of equipment to help them. These residents have to carry around their oxygen tanks. If they can’t carry them, they are confined to their rooms.”
In addition to remodeling the existing location, a brand new building will be erected. The new facility will have a waterfront view of Mount Hope Bay, complete with a long-term care structure with 225 beds, as well as a 75-bed assisted living area, said Hanson.
The criteria to house veterans in the complex includes war service or veterans that don’t have family or finances. The average age of veterans living there is between 80 and 90. Six residents are female; the rest are male. They’ve served as far back as World War II and up to the Iraq War.
The main issue of concern, said Hanrahan, is the anticipation of the arrival of troops serving in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.
“We’re going to need a hell of a lot more room for these guys to come to,” said Hanrahan, who has lived at the home for seven years. “Proposition 4 would certainly help the situation. When my nephew came home after three trips from Afghanistan, the family found him upstairs in his room – he killed himself. He was 21 years old. This has been happening all over the country because of the garbage that they lived through.”
He feels living at the home and being surrounded by other veterans helps him and his fellow veterans cope with the aftermath of war. They are often haunted by negative memories.
“There is a certain camaraderie when you are living with people who have gone through not necessarily the same thing as you, but [similar issues,]” he said. “Most of them are combat veterans. You know you’re not the only one. By being here with somebody else somehow alleviates the feeling. You can empathize with them. We really need this new home. They are not able to cope with the amount of people who want to come in.”
Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, the city’s veterans’ liaison, supports the bond. As a Navy veteran, as well as the wife of a military man, she would like to see the building erected.
As Hanrahan said, Vella-Wilkinson said improvements to the house would allow these men and woman who risked their lives for the country not only have a place to live, but companionship that enables them to cope with their wartime struggles.
“If they’ve seen the horrors of war, the last person they are going to want to talk about it to are their families,” Vella-Wilkinson said. “[My husband] Ken turned 50 in Iraq and he doesn’t talk to me about what went on there.”
Hanson said the same of her husband Frank. However, she said, he is beginning to open up since bringing him to the home with her on visits.
“I think talking to those vets helped him open up,” she said.
Timothy Howe, commander of the Warwick Disabled American Veterans chapter and the Junior Vice under the State Command, is an Army veteran. He agrees with Hanrahan, Hanson and Vella-Wilkinson.
“We never talked about our combat, but eventually you let it come out,” he said with his experience with other veterans. “The thing we had as a common bond is that we deal with the same bureaucracy and the same routine. We already know what war is, so we don’t have to go into detail, but it’s the understanding that we’ve been there.”
He added, “This is a dilapidated building that has programs and activities that they had to close off because the roofs are leaking. The service we get now is phenomenal. It’s being run the best it can with the equipment that they have. To continue to give the best care with the best equipment is the goal.”
The approval will create 400 long-term construction jobs, as the revamping and buildings will take 10 years. Construction would begin in 2014.
“It’s also jobs for the state,” Vella-Wilkinson said. “And it’s the right thing to do – it’s the respectful thing to do. We don’t want to have our veterans cast aside in a building that has mildew and is in a terrible state of disarray. It’s time for people to start putting their money where their yellow ribbons are. Everyone says, ‘I love veterans,’ and they put a yellow ribbon on their car or their lapel. Well, now it’s time to vote for the yellow ribbon.”