It’s an awkward question to ask. There are few groups of Americans more widely loved and respected than the nation’s veterans, for good reason. But I was asked the question today by members of the Providence Rotary Club, and I didn’t have a quick answer.
The question came up during a discussion of this year’s state bond referenda. Question 4 asks voters to authorize the state to borrow $94 million to rebuild the Rhode Island Veterans Home in Bristol. Supporters say the current facility is falling apart and out of code compliance.
What the Rotarians wanted to know was, why does Rhode Island run a home for veterans at all? Don’t the federal government and the V.A. take care of those sorts of responsibilities?
Not necessarily. This map on the website of the National Association of State Veterans Homes suggests most states have one or more veterans homes. Rhode Island’s Veterans Affairs program (housed in the Department of Human Services) runs the veterans home, and has an annual budget of nearly $30 million and about 230 employees, according to state documents.
According to a centennial history of the facility, the Rhode Island Veterans Home was established in 1890 at the urging of a group of citizens who were concerned about the plight of sick and aging Civil War vets. Bristol donated the land to the state as a gift, and the initial budget was $4 a week per veteran, plus $15 each for clothing upon admission.
The facility was originally known as the Rhode Island Soldiers Home and was modeled on a similar one in New Jersey. The 1990 history says the facility “served its residents quite adequately into the early 1940s. Of course, in the meantime, veterans of World War I were reaching the age at which an increased demand for services would be a reality.” The outbreak of World War II led the General Assembly to authorize construction of the current home, which opened in 1955.
The centennial history is silent on how the Bristol home fits into the landscape of veterans services available now. Is it a relic of the 19th century, when the federal government was smaller and states took on more responsibilities? Are there other options Rhode Island should explore?
If you have any insights or thoughts, please them in the comments below. I’d like to learn more.
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