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Veterans home site selection begins anew as task force expires

LITTLE ROCK — A second round of requests for proposals for the site of a new state veterans home went out this week, the director of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs said Thursday.

Also Thursday, an advisory panel said it would not have recommendations for a site by its original end-of-the-month deadline.

The RFPs that the Veterans Affairs office sent out require a response by Nov. 22. The Arkansas Veterans Home Task Force, created by the Legislature earlier this year to recommend a future site for the new veterans home, expires Oct. 31.

Meeting Thursday, the panel said it would send a letter to the Legislative Council recommending that it create a 10-member subcommittee, including five members each from the House and Senate, so lawmakers can continue to participate in the process of finding a location and building a new veterans home.

“This does take time and we just didn’t have that time,” said Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, chairman of the task force.

After its creation, the 22-member task force met monthly beginning in June to help plan for the new veterans home. In August, it narrowed the possible location of a new veterans home to three cities.

However, Veterans Affairs Director Cissy Rucker found a number of problems with the criteria used in the selection process and last month she told the task force that her agency was working with the state Department of Economic Development and planned to solicit a second round of proposals.

The new requirements are more specific and detailed, patterned after federal guidelines and the process used by the state of Nebraska recently when it sought a location for a veterans home.

“I don’t know enough about picking a site to do it in the very best way,” Rucker told reporters after Thursday’s meeting. “So I called in some experts, from different agencies … we went to a site consultant because we’re only going to do this one time and I want to do it right.”

She said new requirements were sent out to cities and counties Tuesday.

Rucker said the four cities which some task force members toured in August — Benton, Fort Smith, Jacksonville and Russellville — along with all of the other nearly 40 cities or counties that previously submitted proposals, were welcome to reapply or update their proposals so they meet the new requirements.

She said the new site proposal process “is really going to level the playing field because everybody will be counted the same way.”

“We’ve received some interest,” she said.

Rucker also said that a the location of a new veterans home would not be restricted to within two hours of where the previous home was located in Little Rock.

“That’s changed,” she said, adding that her agency recently learned that the two-hour limit was just a suggestion, but because the old home was not at full capacity that limit is not needed.

“We’re having to look at the concentration of veterans, where would they best be served,” she said. “We need to use our money to serve the most veterans, where are they and how can we best serve them. “

The old veterans home in Little Rock was closed last year after failing building and health inspections. The Legislature this year approved $7.5 million to build a new facility and the state has obtained $14 million in federal matching funds.

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