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PALMER - The transformation from Pioneers' Home to Alaska Veterans Home officially finished July 9 in Palmer, as Gov. Frank Murkowski formally dedicated the facility.
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Veterans and their supporters, along with a host of federal, state and community leaders, were on hand to see the Fireweed Avenue facility unveiled as the site of the state's first veteran's home, a $4.15 million project that was recently completed.
The facility was met with praise from veterans around the state, not just locally.
"The thing I have to say is that it's about time," said Tom Toper, a World War II veteran from Anchorage who lives in the Anchorage Pioneers' Home and attended Sunday's festivities. "I'm happy that the Veterans Administration and the government could put things together for this to become a reality.
"I'm pleased and proud of everybody's efforts. I couldn't give this any more praise," Toper said.
The facility was renovated to accommodate both Alaska veterans and Pioneers' Home residents. Energy-efficient heating and ventilation were installed, new therapy and activity facilities built and new handicapped-accessible features were added.
Rep. Carl Gatto, a Palmer Republican, was in attendance for the Sunday festivities. As a member of the House Finance Subcommittee, he helped push funding for the building renovation. Gatto said veterans are "very deserving" of the establishment of a dedicated home.
"I have such a strong piece of my heart for veterans. I never let one walk by without thanking them for what they do," Gatto said. "These people took the biggest risk that anyone could ever take."
Murkowski echoed Gatto's sentiment.
"It has taken the hard work of Alaskans across the state, working together, to make this happen," Murkowski said in a press release. "That effort shows that we are determined to care for those who have served their country in our armed services."
In an address to the assembled crowd Sunday, Murkowski endorsed extending the veterans home concept to other locations.
At the Palmer home, 75 percent of the beds will be designated for veterans, while the remaining beds will be available to nonveterans as part of the regular Pioneer Home program. No current residents are being asked to leave the Palmer location, and no veterans at other Pioneers' Home locations are forced to move to Palmer, however.
Toper, an Anchorage resident, said his only complaint with the entire project is a minor one.
"I only wish it was in Anchorage," he said.
There are currently 79 beds at the Palmer site. When veterans who live in other facilities request a transfer, the request will be honored when a bed becomes available.
The final step in the switch to the Alaska Veterans' Home will be completed later this summer, when the Veterans Administration (VA) certifies the facility. Then, the state will receive $27 per veteran per day from the VA for services provided in the home.
"Today's dedication is the result of a nearly 30 years of work to establish a state veterans home in Alaska," Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Karleen Jackson said in a press release. "By dedicating this home, we are showing our gratitude for - and honoring - Alaska's veterans."