BY STATE SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE –
LITTLE ROCK – More than 249,000 veterans live in Arkansas and more than 106,000 of them are older than 65.
The state’s second long-term care facility for veterans is scheduled to open in North Little Rock at the end of 2016. Ground was broken in late July and in August the facility received a $15.6 million grant from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. State funding will also go for construction, which is budgeted to cost about $24 million.
It will have space for 96 veterans to live. Unlike older homes for veterans, the new facility will have a more familiar feel because it will consist of eight cottages that will each house 12 persons. The facility will include a larger community building in a central area. A state Veterans Affairs Department official said that the facility would feel more like a home than an institution.
The state had operated a long-term care facility for veterans in Little Rock, but closed it in 2012 because it was in such poor condition.
The facility is near the Eugene J. Towbin Healthcare Center, which is the North Little Rock campus of the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System commonly known as Fort Roots.
The U.S. Army opened Fort Logan H. Roots in 1893 for military training. A larger training facility was needed, however, and Camp Pike was opened during the First World War. It is now called Camp Robinson. Fort Roots was converted to a hospital for veterans in 1921.
Arkansas has a long-term care facility for veterans in Fayetteville that can house 112 people.
This fall the state Veterans Affairs Department is transitioning Veteran Service Officers out of Fort Roots and into regions throughout Arkansas. In order to increase their effectiveness, the department plans to train at least 85 percent of VSOs with a standard accreditation program by June of 2017.
Federal expenditures for the almost 250,000 veterans in Arkansas are more than $2.1 billion a year. That amount includes pensions and benefits, medical services, rehabilitation, education and insurance payments.
Water Plan Moves Forward
The state Natural Resources Commission voted for a revised state water plan, which now goes to the legislature for approval. The state’s first water plan was finalized in 1975.
The plan recommends methods to lessen an anticipated water shortage that is expected to grow sharply by 2050. It predicts that underground aquifers in agricultural areas of eastern Arkansas will be depleted unless water users take action to conserve or to find alternative sources of water.
The commission held nine public hearings across the state to gather comments on the plan.
Regulation of water use not only affects farmers who irrigate, but also cattle and poultry growers who fertilize pastures with chicken litter. Any nutrient management plan would also affect the spreading of commercial fertilizers and chemicals.
The demand for water is growing steadily and rapidly, due to population growth, increasing reliance on irrigation and industrial use. There is a limit to how much water can be diverted from rivers, depending on factors such as whether they are used for navigation and commerce.