CHEYENNE — Wyoming is at a "crossroads" in caring for veterans, according to a new legislative audit, so it's considering adding a new nursing facility for vets that would be paid for by the state.
A release by a legislative panel this week questions if the right kind of long-term care operations are available within the state. The audit suggests lawmakers should consider building a state-funded nursing home for veterans.
Wyoming, one of two states without a state-funded nursing home, had a veteran population of 55,510 as of Sept. 30, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Of that number, 39 percent are older than 65, and that percentage is expected to climb in the next couple of decades.
The 117-bed Veterans Home of Wyoming in Buffalo only offers assisted-living or domiciliary care. Veterans currently can use VA facilities in Sheridan or Cheyenne, the Wyoming Retirement Center in Basin or private providers if they need skilled nursing care.
The report states that because of the rising population and their different needs, for current or past veterans, "simply relying on the (VA) to provide long-term care and other specializes services may not be an adequate approach for the future."
Larry Barttelbort, director of the Wyoming Veterans Commission, said the audit report reinforces his belief that there is a gap in providing this type of care for veterans.
"Finding long-term care for veterans is very important," he said. "I don't think we are in trouble. This is just a matter of seeing what our needs are and looking carefully to see if we can fill those needs."
Among the options the audit suggests: expanding the Veterans Home of Wyoming or building a new centrally located nursing home.
In October, the Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Interim Committee voted to recommend a bill to spend $1.65 million to help construct a facility in the state using the green house living concept model.
The Wyoming Veterans Commission initially proposed the plan, which would follow a national movement to shift senior care to small, community-based nursing homes instead of large institutional facilities.
The project would create two "cottages" that would each house and provide long-term care for 12 veterans.
But there are questions about whether the state could get access to the land in Sheridan, where the project was originally proposed to be located.
In addition, the audit report says it could be more cost-effective to build a new facility, which could potentially still use the green house living concept model, at the Veterans Home of Wyoming.
Rep. Michael Madden — R-Buffalo, vice chairman of the Legislature's Management Audit Committee, which approved the report — said there are many factors to consider in the audit's recommendations, and he does not yet know which way the Legislature will go.
The audit does not reflect any glaring gaps or problems that need to be addressed immediately, he said.
Instead, the report brings up important policy questions that warrant further study and debate by legislators and other stakeholders, including veterans, Madden said.
"We have to look at our capacity, our strengths and what we might not be offering," he said.