Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Retsil Groundbreaking Ceremony
May 16, 2003

Good morning.

Let’s first give a big round of applause to the Gospel Outreach Choir!

Secretary Principi, Director King, distinguished veterans and guests, it is a true honor to be here.

This is a great day for Washington veterans and a great day for our state. Thank you for coming and supporting the men and women who have served our state with honor and sacrifice.

There are many Washington state veterans. We rank 13th nationwide in total numbers. There are about 670,000 veterans living in our state. When I thank these “men and women,” it’s more than a figure of speech. Seven percent of our veterans are women, and that percentage is growing.

We will be an even more prominent veteran’s state in years to come. Nationally, the number of veterans declined 5% in the last decade. But here in our state, the veteran population increased by 4%.

Our veterans looked out for us. So it’s important that we look out for them. Many veterans will need the care that this first-rate facility will provide. In the next 20 years, Washington veterans over the age of 65 will number 220,000. That’s 20,000 more than today. The number of veterans over the age of 85 will triple—from 8,400 to 27,000.

So even as we break ground today to make room for the increasing numbers, we know we will still need to work to keep up with the need.

I guess we better dig as fast as possible today!

We’re here as part of a long tradition of taking care of the brave souls who have heroically taken care of us by protecting our country and our freedoms.

Our state Department of Veterans Affairs is at the very heart of this tradition. I am extremely proud of the work of the DVA. Director King and his troops do an exceptional job of providing assistance, counseling, and long-term nursing care to our veterans and their families. They make it their mission to see to it that Washington’s veterans don’t just fade away.

Veterans’ homes play a very important role in our state. Our state Department of Veterans Affairs operates three state nursing homes. These three facilities serve 545 veterans.

Two of these homes are very old. The Washington Veterans Home here in Retsil was established in 1910. The Washington Soldiers Home in Orting started even earlier—in 1891. The third is the Veterans Home in Spokane, which was established two years ago with a $12 million purchase.

These homes provide 24-hour nursing and residential care to medically indigent veterans. These are veterans who qualify for federal reimbursements not available in private nursing homes—reimbursements that offset costs that would otherwise be paid through state programs.

For the past 10 years we’ve had to focus facilities money on basic maintenance that had been delayed or even neglected. We’ve not been able to add services or programs.

But in 1997, the Legislature authorized a study at our request. That study led to the DVA master plan recommending a new facility here in Retsil. We can now better meet the needs of Washington veterans safely and efficiently, for years to come.

And here we are today. The new Retsil Veterans Home will be a 240-bed skilled nursing facility. We’re all very proud of the high-efficiency, modern design. Here our veterans in need will find the resident-centered care they deserve. Care that meets their health needs. Care that focuses on enhancing the quality of life. Care in surroundings that feel more like a home—instead of an institution.

I want to thank Secretary Principi and the federal government for their vital, long-standing partnership with us. This partnership goes clear back to 1888. That’s when states maintaining homes for disabled veterans began receiving federal payments. Today, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs partners with states with grants that fund up to 65% of the cost of constructing, renovating, or acquiring facilities to care for our veterans.

Today, we’ll see that partnership continue when Secretary Principi presents a check of $30.7 million toward the cost of this Veterans Home. This contribution was first approved under President Clinton and reaffirmed under President Bush.

Our state will contribute $12 million.

This new facility will mean a home for veterans in need, and family wage jobs in this area as construction begins. Speaking of jobs, we’re renovating the Port Orchard readiness center not far from here, and replacing the Bremerton readiness center. Over in Poulsbo we’re building a new 38,000 square foot classroom building at Olympic Community College. And my budget proposal calls for an additional $22 million for the Olympic Community College science and technology building.

All of these projects mean more private sector construction jobs for this area and for our state. And jobs are the key to economic recovery. The stronger our economy, the better able we will be to protect our most vulnerable citizens—including our many veterans.

It is very appropriate that we break ground on this project today. This is National Nursing Home Week, a celebration established 36 years ago. This is a week to celebrate the accomplishments of seniors and people with disabilities, and to reflect on their valuable contributions.

And what better way to remember, recognize, and celebrate our veterans this week than to break ground for this state-of-the-art Veterans Home?

Like all of us, I have a very special place in my heart for our veterans. My own father, Jimmy Locke, was a staff sergeant in World War II. Dad was in the Army’s 5th Armored Division and served in the European Theater. He was among the many who landed at the beaches of Normandy.

I grew up revering those who sacrifice as my father did. Sacrifice so that the rest of us can enjoy the safety, security, comfort, and freedoms we too often take for granted.
It is an honor to be a part of this ceremony. Our veterans ask very little of the country they served, but we owe them so much. Today it is our turn to serve. It is our turn to give back to our veterans.

Thanks to all of you for joining in this partnership of honor and recognition, and giving back to our veterans.

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