Vets worried about new nursing-home fee

ATLANTA — Military veterans living in state-run nursing homes are worried about Georgia’s plans to begin charging them.

A May 7 memo from Georgia Commissioner of Veterans Service Pete Wheeler alarmed the residents of the State War Veterans’ Homes in Augusta and Milledgeville in which he explains legislation Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law the week before. The law requires the Veterans Service Board to set a fee for nursing-home services, something the state has always provided to patients at no cost.

The bipartisan bill was sponsored by the chairmen of the House veterans and appropriations committees and passed overwhelmingly with only 13 “no” votes in the House and none in the Senate.

One of the sponsors was Rep. John Yates, R-Griffin, who at 90 years old is the only remaining World War II veteran serving in the General Assembly and an ardent champion of his fellow warriors.

Wheeler says in his memo that the fee wasn’t his idea.

“While this department did not advocate for, or request this law, we have been charged with implementing it, and we have started the process to do so,” he wrote.

The reason for the fee is to collect money the federal government distributes to individual veterans to cover the cost of care. Since Georgia is the only state that doesn’t levy a fee, the veterans have been pocketing the roughly $23 daily payment.

Wheeler said the state plans to set the fee equal to the federal payment, meaning the veterans still get a bargain compared with the $200 daily charge at private nursing homes.

With tight budgets in recent years, the state will use the federal money to expand the number of veterans receiving care, according to Wheeler.

The board votes in the fall to set the fee which will go into effect sometime later.

Several of the nursing-home residents have brought their concerns to the media, asking to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution.

Veterans groups aren’t sympathetic.

Wayne Hagan, state adjutant of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the residents pocketing the federal payments for years are fleecing taxpayers for not reimbursing the state for its services as Congress intended.

“I’m a supporter of veterans. I’m not a supporter of cheaters,” he said.

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