News Flash Home
The original item was published from 4/1/2015 4:12:06 PM to 4/5/2015 12:05:00 AM.

News Flash

Butte-Silver Bow

Posted on: April 1, 2015

[ARCHIVED] Tester, Butte lawmakers press VA secretary on veterans home

Montana lawmakers hope a meeting with VA Secretary Bob McDonald will help pave a funding path for construction of a new Southwestern Montana Veterans Home in Butte.

“He made no promises,” U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., told the Standard Wednesday. “But we will continue to pressure him from my end. He knows these guys are real. I think they are in much better shape now.”

The "guys" Tester references are Butte’s state lawmakers and Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive Matt Vincent.

McDonald met Tuesday with Tester, Vincent, state Rep. Ryan Lynch and state Sen. Jon Sesso –- both Butte Democrats -- and Dave Williamson, a service officer with the Montana Veterans Affairs Division. The meeting in Helena was specifically about the proposed VA home in Butte.

“He was very supportive of our efforts and felt confident in our confidence that we are ready to go on this thing,” Vincent said.

Lynch has sponsored a bill this session that would arrange a state loan of up to $10 million to help pay for construction of the facility. The loan would be secured in part with a federal funding commitment and would be repaid in full when the U.S. Veterans Administration provides its share of the money.

The project has been authorized for funding by the VA and is on its priority list, but has repeatedly ranked too low to be funded by the federal agency.

Lynch’s bill recently stalled in committee in the Republican-controlled Montana House. Appropriations Chair Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, said the majority of committee members had concerns because the bill would have used general fund money to back up the loan.

Lynch says the federal government is to pay 65 percent of the $15 million project, while the state had already come forward with its $5 million share. The facility would be built on a 10-acre parcel of land donated by Don Harrington, while Butte-Silver Bow has used hard-rock mining taxes to prepare water and sewer connections.

Tester said existing VA facilities with safety needs have funding preferences in Washington now, but those in Tuesday’s meeting were “on the same page” in telling McDonald the home in Butte was a priority in Montana.

“The bottom line is what we need from him is a different way of funding it,” Tester said.

That could mean finding a different pool of federal money, he said, or getting a letter from McDonald saying the Butte home would move to the top of the priority list once maintenance projects are addressed.

That could give Montana legislators more assurances the state money would be paid back, he said.

Vincent said he was still reeling from Lynch’s bill stalling in committee. The proposed home in Butte had bipartisan support from many lawmakers in southwest Montana, he said, and it would benefit all of Montana.

“Any Montana veteran can qualify for getting into this home and we need to do it,” he said.

Vincent said he and Butte’s state lawmakers weren’t giving up this session and he thinks they conveyed their commitment to McDonald.

“He is obviously drinking from the fire hose right now in trying to improve the VA from coast to coast,” Vincent said. “We all appreciated the opportunity to meet with him.

“He is committed to taking it back to D.C. and figuring out a way to do it.”

Read more on The Montana Standard
Facebook Twitter Email