Kearney Hub. Oct. 12, 2013.
Welcoming veterans begins today
Kearney labeled its proposal for the Central Nebraska Veterans Home "Project Honor," and with good reason. Every element in the bid that came out on top of the state's competition was intended to provide Nebraska military veterans with the best care and quality of life that's possible.
As a result, Kearney leaders included in Project Honor what they believe is a prime 75-acre location for the veterans home. They devised strategies to ensure the facility has a steady and skilled staff, and found ways to shave operating costs in the long term. Worthy of note as efforts unravel in Grand Island, the Buffalo County Board even pledged in Project Honor that the county's veterans service officer will not interfere with operations of the veterans home.
In all, Kearney committed $10 million in incentives to the proposal, which scored 1,033 out of a possible 1,200 points in the competitive process.
By some measures, drafting the proposal and committing the funding was simple because Kearney is so inherently well suited to become the host city. For example, the expansion of health care programs at the University of Nebraska at Kearney and the soon-to-be-built 48,000-square-foot satellite facilities for the University of Nebraska Medical Center programs here will help supply skilled nursing and medical staff.
Yes, providing the financial incentives and reminding the state's site selection committee of Kearney's growing medical training facilities both were simple calls. However, one element in Kearney's proposal — what ought to become a source of community pride — will involve the marshaling of hundreds of Kearney-area residents to welcome the 200-plus veterans when they arrive in 2018.
We must make certain they feel like members of our community. All residents can contribute to this endeavor. Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce President Marion McDermott took charge of assimilation and included scores of ideas. Among them: Residents can adopt veterans, businesses can buy veterans tickets to local events, and Kearney hotels can develop special rates for families visiting veterans.
These are a handful of the ideas that McDermott listed, but none of them will happen without the people of Kearney rolling up their sleeves. The Central Nebraska Veterans Home isn't scheduled to open for five years, but it's not too early for service clubs and other organizations to find out what responsibilities they can assume.
This phase of Project Honor — welcoming our new residents and getting them involved — will certainly be the most fulfilling and rewarding part of becoming the host city for the Central Nebraska Veterans Home. Today is the perfect time to start things rolling in a positive direction. Let's pull together and do what's right for the veterans. They've earned the honor.
The Grand Island Independent. Oct. 13, 2013.
Vets home alternative merits serious consideration
The veterans home controversy made headlines last week, first with the announcement of an alternative proposal that would renovate the Grand Island Veterans Home and then statewide media coverage following a stern chastisement from Gov. Dave Heineman articulated in an open letter which was intended primarily to serve as a press release. The letter was sent early Thursday morning to media outlets across the state and to every member of the state Legislature.
In the letter specifically addressed to Sen. Mike Gloor, Mayor Jay Vavricek and Hall County Board Chairwoman Pam Lancaster, Heineman expressed outrage over a letter sent by County Veterans Service Officer Don Shuda to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in early September making an appeal to keep the veterans home in Grand Island. Shuda's letter was accompanied by a grass-roots petition circulated by a GIVH resident and signed by more than 5,000 area residents. In his letter, Heineman demanded that Shuda's actions be condemned and that Grand Island officials reaffirm support for federal funding of a new facility in Kearney.
Heineman further stated that he was disappointed that Shuda asked the VA to "not approve the funding for a new Nebraska veterans home." That assertion was not entirely accurate as Heineman omitted the rest of the sentence — "until further study is completed."
Shuda's letter was sent independently without the endorsement of the Hall County Board of Supervisors or the G.I. Home for Our Heroes Committee or any other organized group.
The proposal to renovate the existing home was widely reported in detail earlier this week. The plan was conceived by a passionate grass-roots group led by 87-year-old World War II "Battle of the Bulge" veteran and Wood River resident Chick Moyer. The proposal sent to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki on Sept. 26 involves retrofitting some existing buildings at the GIVH and replacing others. The concept's $75 million price tag would trim 40 percent off the projected $121 million cost to build a new home in Kearney. As a courtesy, Mayor Vavricek personally called the governor to alert him in advance of the public announcement of the alternative. Both Vavricek and Lancaster support the alternative plan.
Grand Island's state legislators, mayor, committee leaders, and county officials remain committed to pursuing all options to retain the GIVH and unbending in the certainty that the flawed process, bias, and political motive led to the decision to move the home to Kearney.
A Kearney Hub editorial this week boasted that "Project Edge gave Kearney the edge," referring to the $1.5 billion Facebook project that Kearney business leaders assembled with the help of Nebraska state officials two years before the veterans home decision was rendered. Granted, the failed Edge proposal was indeed a well thought out, world-class piece of work. There is also little doubt that it established an inside track for Kearney's subsequent quest for the veterans home.
No one wants to see an upset governor or turf battles between neighboring communities. Nonetheless, the governor set the stage for inter-community relationships to be damaged when he chose to pit communities against one another. In this case, for the price of $10 million, the winner gets to take 350 jobs and a 126-year-old institution from another Nebraska community. The state grows no new jobs in this enterprise, but does create hardship and angst for a lot of veterans, staff and their families.
Regarding the likelihood that the federal government will come through with the $74 million or nearly 90 percent of available VA project construction funds for the Nebraska home, Heineman recently acknowledged — "showdowns on Capitol Hill could delay funding for VA projects in 2014 or eliminate funding altogether." Securing funding for a $121 million Nebraska home project was a bold dream from the outset. With over 120 construction projects across the U.S. to consider at any given time, the allocation of such a large portion of the VA's available grant pool to a single project would be extremely unlikely in today's political and economic climate.
Finally, Heineman's accusations that G.I. has changed its tune, doesn't support federal funding for a new home, and doesn't care about what is best for the veterans are all insultingly off base. The reality is that the veterans home will remain in Grand Island for a long time. Any alternative that provides the best care and quality of life for our veterans while trimming the burden on taxpayers is a win-win scenario, deserving of full vetting by the state and federal government.
In the end, the central issue isn't over money or buildings or politics or reprisals or bragging rights or jobs, it's about providing a home.
Lincoln Journal Star. Oct. 13, 2013.
Don't muzzle environmental trust
Supporters of the Nebraska Environmental Trust apparently can never rest. The wolves always are circling, eyes gleaming just beyond the light of the campfire.
No one can argue the trust is not doing exactly what was promised when voters approved constitutional amendments that set it in place to disburse tax money collected from the sale of lottery tickets.
But the money attracts those who would rather spend it according to their own wishes.
This summer, in a surprise attack, a majority of trust board members present at a July meeting succeeded in approving a policy change that effectively defangs the trust's staff.
The new policy prevents trust staff from taking a position on legislation that affects the environment.
The move was approved by a majority of trust board members present in July, but it may not have the support of a majority of the entire board.
That fact is not yet been established because of a possible dirty trick played by the members who supported the policy change. When a meeting was scheduled in September to review the matter, all the six board members who voted for the change skipped the meeting.
Without a quorum, the remaining members could not vote to reverse the policy. According to the board's bylaws, at least eight of the board's 14 members must be present for a quorum.
It's worth mentioning that by shirking their responsibility the absentee members also wasted the public's time. Almost a dozen people showed up to express their opposition to the change.
There's little doubt the forces that lust after the trust's pot of money would find raids easier if the staff were unable to defend itself against legislative bills that would divert the money to other pet projects.
The trust has a long record of spreading its money across the state in a fair and equitable way.
The strength of that record probably is why the trust's opponents want to silence the staff, restraining it from doing anything other than answering questions.
Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm came to the trust's defense in a letter voicing his opposition to the new policy.
"The trust cannot expect its supporters and grant recipients to fight your battles without your direct involvement," Haar wrote in a letter. "Many senators will see the trust's inaction on legislation as an acceptance of those actions. The board, executive director and staff should not be hamstrung by such a policy."
Haar is right. Let's hope by the next time the item appears on the trust's agenda trust supporters show up in force — and the trust's board members show up to do their job.
Scottsbluff Star-Herald. Oct. 13, 2013.
Crazy: It isn't just Congress that can leave you shaking your head
If you've been grinding your teeth about all the craziness in Washington, here's something to take your mind off it: craziness in the courts.
The story begins with Patrick Cain, 61, who had a bad day a couple of years ago. He'd been drinking with his now-dead wife in December 2009. It might have been a lot, because he can't quite remember what happened, according to courtroom accounts. He told officers who arrived at his house that he pushed her down a flight of stairs during an argument. Later he said that the whole thing was an accident — that they'd both been drinking heavily and that she fell down the stairs. Either way, police found her body stuffed inside a closet at their Omaha home. An autopsy said she died of blunt-force trauma to the head.
After that tragic day, things took a turn for the better. Fortunately, Cain lived in Nebraska, where hardly anyone ever ends up on Death Row. He wasn't charged with his wife's murder. Instead, he pleaded no contest to manslaughter charges and spent only two years in prison. He was released from prison on parole on June 20, after doing half of the low end of a sentence of four to six years.
And even more luckily for Cain, his wife, Evelyn, then 57, had a life insurance policy.
If your jaw just dropped a little, keep reading.
According to an Associated Press report, both Cain and Evelyn's family filed claims for Evelyn's life insurance benefits, amounting to $150,000. Now, Nebraska law says that a person who "feloniously and intentionally" kills a spouse can't collect on the departed spouse's life insurance payout. But Cain argued in his claim for his wife's life insurance that there was no evidence he had intentionally killed Evelyn. His attorney, Richard Henkenius of Omaha, argued that in fact the manslaughter charge specifically stated that Cain had killed his wife "without malice upon a sudden quarrel and unintentionally" while committing an unlawful act.
The insurance company turned to a federal court to determine who should collect.
That's where the story jumps the rails. If you think Congress holds the patent on lunacy, you need to keep an eye on the folks in charge of dispensing justice. On Oct. 1 — a day before Cain's parole expired — a federal magistrate dismissed the case. As it turned out, Cain and his wife's estate had agreed to split the $150,000, plus interest.
That left both sides with $78,197.
If there's a moral to this story, we can't find it. It seems, at the very least, that the Legislature ought to give the statute regarding insurance and slain spouses a second look.
And if the events of the past few weeks have left you with any outrage to spare, save a bit for poor Evelyn Cain.