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Legion hears veterans home progressing

The Grand Island Independent - 6/23/2018

KEARNEY - The 200 Nebraska American Legion members in Kearney this weekend for their group's 100th convention applauded Friday as they heard that the 225-bed Central Nebraska Veterans' Home is nearing completion and will open this fall.

John Hilgert, director of the Nebraska Department of Veterans' Affairs, reported that progress on the $121 million facility in east Kearney continued this week, even as rainstorms passed through the area.

"Amenities at the home will include a 19½-foot deep lake," Hilgert said, and after this week's rains, "it's full."

The approaching completion of the Veterans' Home was among the list of services and facilities that Gov. Pete Ricketts shared with Legion and Legion Auxiliary members as the governor delivered the convention's opening speech on Friday.

Ricketts said the goal is to make Nebraska the nation's most "veteran-friendly" state. He said since he became governor in 2014, the Legislature has passed 37 bills addressing veterans issues. Among the measures Ricketts listed was one that clears the path for military spouses who are qualified nurses to begin practicing immediately with a temporary three-year license from the state while their regular applications are processed. Another measure consolidates agencies that serve veterans so it's simpler for veterans to get help. Veterans also now can choose from five designs of veteran-themed license plates, Ricketts said.

Referring to the Kearney veterans home, the governor said: "It's going to be a facility for veterans we all can be proud of."

Hilgert said a 20 percent pay increase is making it easier to recruit the certified nursing staff for Nebraska's veterans homes, and that trend will benefit the new Kearney facility. "Last year we actually had more applicants for CNA jobs than there were those who left."

Hilgert said nursing assistants are key to the operation of veterans' homes, so limiting turnover and retaining CNAs boosts the quality of care. "There's more consistency of staff now. Our CNAs know they have the best mission, which is taking care of veterans."

Hilgert listed some of the amenities planned at the Kearney home, including ceiling lifts in every room to aid mobility-challenged veterans and the staff who assists them getting in and out of bed and to the bathroom.

He said when it's time in the fall to move the veterans - or "members," as they're called - from the Grand Island Veterans' Home to Kearney, each veteran will have a volunteer "buddy" to ensure precious belongings make it to Kearney. Hilgert said the buddies will be like adopted family members and help prevent "transfer trauma," which can afflict veterans when they move between facilities.

While the ribbon-cutting for the Kearney facility is planned Aug. 25, tours for select groups are planned earlier than that. Members of the Veterans First organization will tour the Kearney facility on July 9.

Hilgert said the Central Nebraska Veterans' Home will open this fall, but the exact date is unknown because construction continues.



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