KHI News Service

Cuts take toll on veterans’ homes

Service offices also closed due to budget woes

By Dave Ranney | February 02, 2010

Budget cuts have taken a toll on the state’s two nursing homes for military veterans.

“We’ve had to lay people off at both facilities,” said Jack Fowler, executive director of the Kansas Commission on Veterans’ Affairs. “We’ve had consolidation at both facilities.”

Fowler, testifying Monday to the House Social Services Budget Committee, said the two facilities – Kansas Soldiers Home in Fort Dodge, and Kansas Veterans Home in Winfield – have taken steps to minimize the impact on resident care.

Last year, budget cuts caused the the Kansas Soldiers Home to lay off about 15 workers; Kansas Veterans Home laid off 26, Fowler said.

Neither nursing facility is certified to receive Medicaid or Medicare payments. Instead, their budgets are underwritten by the State General Fund, federal support, and resident fees.

In 2007, then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius directed the Commission on Veterans’ Affairs to seek Medicare and Medicaid certification at both facilities.

The governor issued the directive after state inspectors cited the Kansas Soldiers Home for substandard care.

Since then, the Kansas Soldiers Home has achieved Medicare certification and is awaiting Medicaid certification.

Kansas Veterans Home expects to be Medicaid certified in 2010; Medicare certified in 2011.

Fowler said state budget officials asked the commission to calculate how much the homes expected to receive in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements this fiscal year, which ends June 30. The amounts - $368,000 at the Kansas Soldiers Home, $90,000 at the Kansas Veterans Home – were then cut from the state-funded portion of the commission’s budget.

"Into the marrow"

“We’re past the point of being cut to the bone,” Fowler said. “We’re into the marrow now.”

Also, he said, the cuts assumed the homes will be certified when, in fact, they may not.

“We’re in a lose-lose situation,” Fowler said. “We were told that if we didn’t come up with the estimates, we couldn’t put the money in our budget. So we did, and we were still cut.”

The Kansas Soldiers Home is licensed to care for 86 residents. It’s currently caring for 53 residents.

At the Kansas Veterans Home, about 135 of the 150 beds are occupied.

Outreach services hit

Last year, due to cuts, the commission closed two of 14 outreach offices. The office in Maryville is scheduled to close Feb. 19.

The offices help veterans and their families determine if they are eligible for benefits and services.

“Kansas ranks last in the number of service representatives compared to the number of veterans to be served,” Fowler said. “We have one representative for every 11,000 veterans; the national average is one representative for every 3,500 veterans.

“After the Marysville office closes, we’ll have 11 Veterans Service Program offices in the state,” he said. “Missouri has 80. Texas has around 150.”

Chuck Yunker, adjutant for the 330 American Legion posts in Kansas, said many veterans and their survivors are not aware of the benefits available to them.

“I know of an instance in which a woman had to have surgery and by the time it was over she used up all of her life savings. She didn’t know what she was going to do,” Yunker said. “She didn’t know it, but it turned out she was eligible for a widow’s pension.”

A Veterans Service Program representative guided the woman through the application process, he said.

“That happens a lot,” Yunker said. “It’s a complicated system. People need help finding their way around and, right now, we don’t have enough reps out in the state.”

The commission’s troubles caught committee members off guard.

“This is ridiculous,” said Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, referring to the office closings.

“Egregious,” said the committee’s chairwoman Peggy Mast, R-Emporia.

But no one proposed restoring the cuts to the commission’s budget.

Mast asked Fowler if there were any mandates hindering the commission’s ability to serve veterans. Fowler said he couldn’t think of any.