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March 19, 2004     Cape Gazette
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March 19, 2004
 

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24 - CAPE GAZETTE, Friday, March 19 - March 25, 2004 Secretary of Veterans Affairs tours Delaware Visit includes a stop in Dewey Beach By Bridin Reynolds Hughes With each opportunity present- ed during his tour of Delaware March 16, United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Prin- cipi encouraged Delaware law- makers to take action to establish the new veteran's home envi- sioned for the state. Speaking before a crowd of over 200 gathered at the BayCen- ter in Dewey Beach, Principi com- mitted to following up with feder- al funding if the state provides the first 35 percent. "Other than the current defense of our country, I cannot think of many more important things than to care for those who have fought to keep America free," said Prin- cipi. Delaware is the only state in the contiguous 48 states that does not have its own veterans' home. Rep. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, who hosted the event, said, "We are the state that started this nation; we should not be the last to establish a home for the men and women who served our coun- try." Estimates for building a 150 bed facility approach $30 million and Hocker is one of many legis- lators who advocates dedicating the state's portion, approximately $8.8 million, this year. In her budget address, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner requested $2.57 million for Fiscal year 2005. "Now that we are seeing a sur- plus, I am going to help fight for 100 percent of the state money," said Hocker, adding, "My first pri- ority is to seeing it happen in Delaware; my second is to seeing it happen in Sussex County." While few have disagreed with a plan to build a Delaware veter- an's home, the debate of place- ment is ongoing. The U.S Veter- an's Administration estimates 85,000 veterans call Delaware home, with well over a quarter of them residing in Sussex County. The demand for more veterans' services in Sussex County contin- ues to grow as retirees flock to the state's southern county. With respect to the aging popu- lation, Hocker said building a vet- erans home in Sussex County would be both prudent and vi- sionary. "It not only recognizes the existing demographic trends, but it capitalizes on Sussex's high quality-of-life. The attributes that led to our county growing by more than 38 percent in the last decade will help attract and retain quality healthcare workers to staff a veterans home," said Hocker. The opposing argument centers on placing the veteran's home in closer proximity to the varied medical centers and hospitals of- fered in New Castle County. Both New Castle County Coun- cil and Sussex County Council have offered free building sites in for the project. Anthony Vavala, executive director of the Delaware Veterans Commission, estimates 20 acres of land would be needed, allotting five acres for building and the balance for parking and grounds. The proposed Sussex site is located north of Millsboro on Route 113, adjacent to the Stockley Center grounds. Principi, who oversees the na- tion's second largest cabinet de- partment with a budget of nearly $60 billion, said, "I will entrust that decision making to your rep- resentatives and I will do the ut- most to see that we provide the 65 percent funding to see this to fruition." In response to other questions from a largely military audience at the BayCenter, Principi said he has refocused the VA's resources to improve the speed of services for the department's core con- stituents - the veterans with serv- ice-connected conditions, those with few economic resources to help themselves and veterans with special medical needs. Principi said the VA is speeding up health care appointments for these highest priority veterans with new scheduling systems and making gains in compensation processing time. In addition to reducing backlogs for those services, he said the VA has boosted education benefits available to eligible new veterans. For older veterans, he said the VA remains committed to leveraging Submittea photo U.S. Senator Tom Carper left, and U.S, Rep. Mike Castle, right, accompanied Sec. Principi on his tour of the VA Hospi- tal in Elsmere Bridln Reynolds Hughes photo U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi toured Delaware March 16, making stops at the VeteraBs Administration Medical center in Wilmington, Dewey Beach and Leg- islative Hall. Principi addressed a crowd of over 200 people, many in uniform, at a town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, held at the BayCenter in Ruddertowne. Principi encouraged Delaware lawmakers to proceed with plans for a new veteran's home in the state. Shown at the meeting are (l-r) Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, Rep. John Atkins, R-Millsboro, U.S Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Rep. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, Rep. George Carey, R-Milford and Sen. Gary Simpson, R-Milford. healthcare and pharmaceutical costs and operating a network of national cemeteries maintained as national shrines. Given an aging veteran popula- tion, some VA national cemeteries conduct dozens of burials each day. Principi, a decorated Vietnam combat veteran, has two sons on active duty in the Air Force, both having served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He said the VA is striv- ing to meet the needs of an aging World War II population whose ranks are dwindling by 1,075 a day, as well as providing health care and financial benefits for vet- erans of Korea, Vietnam and the f'wst Gulf War. At the same time, the VA is preparing for a new wave of veterans who will be re- turning from Operation Iraqi Freedom. WALK TO THE BEACH!! Two Houses Under Construction Inside Rehoboth Behind Historic McQuay Store Just Inside Canal Bridge on Three Sides ( | i m:" 7:q "mr $595,000 www.rehobothsc0m/510rehobothave 302-521-4190 i