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Zien, veterans group pushes for land sale money to go to new vet home

Leader-Telegram - 11/16/2022

Nov. 16—CHIPPEWA FALLS — When the $20 million Wisconsin Veterans Home at Chippewa Falls opened in Febuary 2013, it filled a large need in western Wisconsin, says former State Sen. David Zien. However, the need has grown, and another home is needed to fill the demand, Zien says.

The 78,000-square-foot home at 2175 E. Park Ave. features private, single-bed rooms for its 72 residents. Each room has a private bathroom and shower. The skilled-nursing home was constructed using a "neighborhood model," creating four separate identical wings with 18 rooms in each wing. Federal dollars paid for 65% of the project.

Zien said there are more than 400 people statewide who are on waiting lists to get into the three veterans homes in the state. The Chippewa Falls facility is the only one in northwest Wisconsin.

"There are veterans who won't even put their name on the waiting list, because it's so long," Zien said Wednesday.

Earlier this year, the Wisconsin'sDepartment of Administration placed 89 acres of state-owned land on the east side of Chippewa Falls for sale, with an average price of $26,100 per acre. The land has been divided into five lots, with land on both the east and west side of Seymour Cray Boulevard, also known as Highway 178. It is generally southwest of the Wisconsin Veteran Home; the land is managed by the state's Department of Health Services. The land sale is expected to be completed in the near future.

Zien pointed to a 2003 law he authored when he was in the Legislature stating the net proceeds from any property sold at the Northern Center were to be allocated to the state departments of Corrections, Social Services or Veterans Affairs.

On Wednesday, the Chippewa Falls Veterans Home Recreational Committee voted unanimously to send letters to all state legislators and the governor's office, asking that 100% of the proceeds from the land sale go toward constructing a second veterans home.

Selling the land could generate between $2 million and $3 million that could go toward building a second veterans home adjacent to the existing building, doubling its capacity, Zien said.

"Unless we're vigilant, we're going to lose a golden opportunity," Zien told the organization at the VFW Hall Post 1038 in the town of Lafayette. "This is one of the best long-term care facilities in the nation. The management and staff are stellar."

Zien said it makes sense to build next to the present site, rather than have the state go through a process of reviewing several potential sites, saying that could take eight to 10 years.

"We have everything here," Zien said. "We want to jump to the front. We want to take this and go with it, and allow those veterans to be near their families."

Leroy Jansky, who serves on the committee, agreed with Zien's points.

"The majority of the people who go in there are from around here," Jansky said. "There is a need for it, there is land for it, there is infrastructure in place there for it. It woul fill up right away. It's one of the few veteran homes that was in the black just a year or two after it opened."

Earlier this year, state Veterans Affairs spokeswoman Colleen Flaherty shared the following statement: "We appreciate the former senator and his commitment to the Veterans Home in Chippewa Falls. His dedication is the reason the home is there today. We are not familiar with the details of the specific proposal, but we'll be happy to hear any ideas to make our facilities better."

While it is unclear the cost of another home, which would certainly be significantly higher than the last one, Zien is optimistic that if the land sale revenue goes toward another building, and federal aid is still available, the plan could move forward.

The current facility, also known as Zien Hall, took about 18 months to build, with construction starting in summer 2011, with the building opening in February 2013.

Veterans homes are specifically for residents who cannot care for themselves; it is not like an assisted living complex. Veterans residing in the homes may be eligible for federal benefits to supplement the cost of their care.


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