It’s been a long time coming, but there have been some recent signs of progress on creating a state nursing home for veterans next to the Roseburg VA Medical Center.
Kelly Fitzpatrick, director of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs, estimated construction could start on a state-run 154-bed Roseburg Veterans Home in 2027, with completion in 2028.
“State Veterans’ Homes are a benefit that truly honors some of our state’s most vulnerable veterans at a time in their life when they need the best in skilled nursing care,” Fitzpatrick said in an email last week.
Fitzpatrick said the project is currently in the preliminary stages of pre-construction.
Salem-based CB Two Architects have been contracted for the project. The company also designed the Lebanon Veterans Home.
The Roseburg home will likely be built using a small-home model like that of the Lebanon facility, which is made up of four “neighborhoods.” Each neighborhood includes three smaller houses, with 14 residents in each house.
The project would be built on 13.4 acres of land that currently belongs to the Roseburg VA, which is operated by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. A land swap is planned.
Starting about a decade ago, the state Legislature had approved $10.5 million from lottery bond money to help fund the project, and it repeatedly renewed the funding in subsequent bienniums.
But in 2019, with the ODVA still not ready to build the home, the Legislature allowed the funding to lapse.
Since then, the required state or local match has risen to $35 million, 35% of the total $99 million the project is estimated to cost. The remainder would come from the federal government.
The idea of a nursing home for veterans had been floated as early as 1930 in Roseburg, but it’s been a long time coming to fruition.
Oregon opened its first state veterans home in The Dalles in 1997. Douglas County leaders, including former Douglas County Commissioner Joe Laurance and Douglas County Commissioner Tim Freeman, then a Roseburg city councilor, pitched Roseburg as the site of the second.
Instead, the second veterans home was built in Lebanon, but the original 300-bed project was split in two. Roseburg was promised the third home and half the beds.
At the time, Freeman said, they expected the Roseburg project to follow on the heels of Lebanon. That was more than a decade ago.
Freeman moved on to the state House. There, he preserved Roseburg’s place in line, convincing the Legislature to pass a law guaranteeing the third home would be built here.
Many veterans have moved to the area to retire because the VA medical center is here. It makes sense to ensure a veterans home is here for those who need it as they age, Freeman said.
“This community has had a long history of caring for and honoring veterans,” Freeman said.
He said the state, city and county are excited about working together to create the veterans home.
“It’s been a long process and it’s been frustrating, but nonetheless it’s been very worthwhile to pursue,” he said.
Some supporters hope to see both the veterans home and a proposed medical education college help shape Roseburg’s future.
Roseburg City Manager Nikki Messenger said the two projects are complementary, and the combination would provide a significant boost for the local economy.
“The city the county the state and the federal VA system all working together to make this happen is pretty remarkable. And it makes a ton of sense. I’m very optimistic about it,” she said.
Douglas County Veterans Forum President Larry Hill is encouraged to see some movement on the veterans home.
“Any progress is good, because we need the home desperately,” Hill said.
The facility would serve veterans throughout Southern Oregon. In the area served by the Roseburg VA — from Lane County to the state’s southern border and east to Klamath County — there are 68,000 veterans, according to 2019 U.S. Census estimates.
In Douglas County alone, there are an estimated 10,000 veterans. Two-thirds of them served during the Vietnam War or earlier.
They’re not getting any younger.
“It’s vitally important with the high cost of memory care and hospice and everything else that we at least make a dent in that population,” Hill said. “It’s a disservice to the veterans not to do something like this. It really is.”
Former Douglas County Veterans Forum President Jim Little said the home would be a good fit for veterans, who form a kind of brotherhood when they are together.
“I hope I live long enough to actually see that home here,” he said.