Alaska has more veterans per capita than any other state. Yet Alaska is the only state without real stand-alone Veterans Homes.
Our Alaska congressional delegation has been in Washington for a combined total of 85 years. All three are veterans themselves and Alaska still does not have a single Veterans Home. If we veterans have to wait another 85 years we won't need Veterans Homes, we will need cemeteries because we will all be dead.
Frank Murkowski who has been on the Veterans Affairs committee for the entire 22 years he has been in the Senate, and has been Chairman twice, has proposed the campaign ploy of a 16 million dollar federally-funded upgrade to Alaska's existing 6 Pioneer Homes to bring them up to Veterans Administration standards for resident vets to be eligible to receive VA per diem payments. This proposal has angered both Pioneers and Veterans and has cost Murkowski 6,000 veteran votes in the primary election.
Don Young is his re-election veterans gambit introduced legislation to give native Alaskan Vietnam veterans 160 acres each of federal land anywhere in Alaska that they choose whether they traditionally used it or not.
Ted Stevens' office has said that a Veterans Home is not on his priority list for end-of-Congress Appropriation bills Christmas-treeing.
Loren Leman who during the height of the Vietnam war went to 4 colleges in 5 years from '68 to '73 led the effort as Senate Majority Leader to kill Vietnam Veteran Governor Tony Knowles' legislation to help Alaska's veterans.
We are fighting for a simple plan that within two years will build and endow three Alaska Veterans Homes in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau - Alaska's three major cities. To start, we have asked Senator Stevens to add a one-sentence rider to pending end-of-session Appropriations bills to direct the Secretary of the Interior to transfer 100 acres of the 730 BLM Campbell Tract in Anchorage to the State of Alaska designated as Alaska's first Veterans Home. We have also ask Senator Stevens to appropriate 50 million dollars for construction.
Over the past two years Senator Stevens has appropriated 80 million dollars for 30,000 threatened Alaska Sea Lions. What is good for 30,000 Alaska Sea Lions is good for 60,000 Navy SEALS and other GIs who have put their lives on the line to protect America, Alaska, and Alaska's Sea Lions to boot!
Indeed, Senator Stevens can appropriate 50 million this year and 30 million next year along with 100 acres of federal land each for the Fairbanks and Juneau Veterans Homes. We 60,000 Alaska veterans, at the very least, deserve parity with 30,000 Alaska Sea Lions.
Frank Murkowski in his argument for the Pioneer Home upgrades to make room for more vets, says that federal law requires Alaska to pay for one-third of the cost of construction and one-half of the cost of operation of state Veterans Homes and that Alaska can't afford it until he is elected Governor and straightens out Alaska's fiscal mess. Nonsense! We Alaskan vets and those Alaskans who support vets can easily pay for Alaska's share of construction and operation costs with our PFD dividends.
Here is how it would work. When Stevens secures 80 million in Sea Lions parity appropriations for Alaska's Veterans Homes, that would mean that the total construction cost would be 120 million and the state would have to come up with its 40 million one-third share. With 60,000 vets in Alaska that's only 666 dollars per vet PFD check. If another 60,000 friends and family who support vets were to kick in, then it drops to 333 dollars per PFD check.
To make it even easier, Governor Tony Knowles could, with a stroke of the pen, create the Alaska Veterans Home Endowment Fund in the State Revenue Division. Then we Alaskans who wish to do so could very easily assign a portion or all of our next year's PFD rights to the state Veterans Home Fund.
The following year - having paid for the construction cost of three first class Veterans Homes in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau - we, vets and vet supporters could pony up a portion or all of that year's PFDs to go into a U.S. Treasury-based endowment fund for the operation of the Homes. The federal government through VA per diem payments would pay one-half the cost of the operation of the Homes and the interest from Alaska's Veteran Homes Endowment Fund would pay the other half of the Homes operation cost. Thus the state budget that Frank Murkowski is so worried about would not be affected at all. The Veterans Homes would be entirely self-funded.
In this way, all those big-talking politicians who are always saying how much they support vets, can put their money where their mouths are. Also, deep-pocketed businesses, especially oil companies whose oil GIs protect and for which they will die in Iraq soon, can pony up big time with multi-million dollar contributions to the Alaska Veterans Homes Endowment Fund.
Will we ourselves do it? You betcha! We already have assigned our PFD rights for the Alaska common good. Since becoming Alaskans 3 years ago we have assigned all our PFD rights to the Alaska SeaLife Center through the city of Seward. With this year's PFD assignment gifts there will be more than 10,000 dollars invested in a U.S. Treasury-based endowment fund in our names at the Center providing annual interest for the Center's projects.
If Governor Knowles acts right now to create the Alaska Veterans Homes Endowment Fund, we will be delighted to assign all of our PFD rights to it for the next few years! Indeed, for this year, we will give 333 dollars each to the new Alaska Veterans Home Endowment Fund right now, as soon as Governor Knowles creates it. Our 100 percent PFD assignments will make up for some of those vets who can't afford to make anything but a token assignment of a few dollars. If other Alaskans vets and those who support vets follow our example, there will be ample money to build and operate first class Veterans' Homes in Alaska that will set a new standard for Veterans Homes throughout America.
We envision Alaska's first Veterans Home here in Anchorage as the largest because it will serve half the population of vets and will be located in the middle of Anchorage close to the VA Hospital. On 100 acres of BLM Campbell Tract land, we envision three initial buildings modeled on the present Anchorage Senior Center and Chugach Manor-Chugach View Senior Apartment buildings. In addition to activity rooms, restaurant, and meeting rooms, the Center will have indoor swimming lap lanes for hydro-therapy and to help ease the arthritis pain of old age.
We envision 100 hundred one-bedroom apartments in each building instead of hospital type rooms for the resident vets who can get along with less assisted-living help. For those who need more assistance there will be a fully staffed nursing care wing. There will also be a small motel building on the premises for those friends and family who come a long distance to visit the resident vets. The motel will also serve other Veterans Home residents from outside Anchorage who must come to the VA hospital for out-patient care for short periods.
We envision the construction and maintenance of 25 acres of baseball fields on the 100-acre property for the continuing use of the Simonian Little League. We vets will protect the rights of the kids to play ball on our baseball fields for as long as there are Alaska vets. What could be better than resident grandfather and great-grandfather age vets interacting with kids playing baseball on the Veterans Home ball fields?
We envision a local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America having its headquarters in the Veterans Home activities center. The younger Vietnam vets would then be available every day to help turn a normally inward-looking old age Home into a dynamic outward-looking facility engaging the resident vets in outreach projects and programs to benefit other vets and the community.
We envision plenty of room for future expansion. There is nothing but land in Alaska and there will always be vets who have served to protect America and Alaska. The Homes in Fairbanks and Juneau will be smaller versions of the main Home in Anchorage. Pioneers deserve their own Homes. So do veterans! Indeed, real stand-alone Veterans Homes in Alaska are shamefully long overdue. The land is here. The money is here. The political power is here.
We are fighting hard to bring all three elements together right now - not maybe next year - but RIGHT NOW! We are putting our money where our mouths are right now for Alaska's common good. Please join us. Please, help to convince Senator Stevens to make Alaska's first Veterans Home in Anchorage his top priority in the current end-of-session Appropriations bills Christmas-treeing. Urge him to transfer 100 acres of BLM land and appropriate 50 million dollars right now. Tell Murkowski and Young to drop their lesser Veteran campaign ploys, that do them far more good than they do veterans, and get wholeheartedly behind their own Alaska veteran constituents fight to finally build the first three Alaska Veterans Homes.
October 27, 2002
To: - Alaska's senior political leadership, specifically Senator Stevens, Senator Murkowski, Representative Young, Governor Knowles, Lt. Governor Ulmer. - All other Alaskan elected officials and candidates for public office. - All Alaskan veterans. - All supporters of Alaskan veterans. - All those Alaskans who benefit from Veterans service to America and Alaska.
Dear political leaders, elected officials, candidates, fellow Veterans and fellow Alaskans:
Military service, veterans, and patriotism are all non-partisan issues - always have been, always will be. The fact that Alaska, with more veterans per capita than any other state, is the only state without real Veterans Homes, is an enduring shame upon our great state.
The proposed Pioneer Home upgrades to accommodate more veterans by Governor Knowles and Lt. Gov. Ulmer at their Thursday, October 24, 2002 press conference and mimicked by Senator Murkowski at his Saturday, October 26 Veterans Policy press conference is by definition lesser, unpopular, and interim. Both gubernatorial candidates have said that Pioneer Home upgrades are interim measures on the way to the goal of real stand-alone homes. Obviously Pioneer Home upgrades are less than real Veterans Homes. Also, just as obviously neither Pioneers nor veterans want Pioneer Home upgrades to house more veterans. Both Pioneers and veterans want their own home. Both Pioneers and veterans deserve their own Homes.
Tony Knowles, Fran Ulmer, and Frank Murkowski all have said that the only thing that stands in the way of real Veterans Homes is money - the state's one-third share of construction cost and one-half share of operating cost.
We have come up with a viable plan to build Alaska's first three real stand-alone Veterans Homes and to raise the needed state share of the money entirely from voluntary contributions by Alaskan veterans and those Alaskans who support veterans. Our proposal would not involve one thin dime of state budgetary money either for construction or operation.
As many of our fellow Alaskans already know, we have put our money where our mouths are for Veterans Homes. Specifically, we have already contributed $333 each or 20 percent of this year's PFD towards the goal of raising the 40 million dollar state one-third share for construction. We have already pledged to assign all of next year's PFDs along with the following several years total PFDs to the Veterans Home Endowment fund. Finally, on October 17 we executed a formal notarized legal assignment of rights to all 10 million dollars of our federal justice compensation that Senator Stevens is working on obtaining to Alaska's Veterans Homes - 5 million for construction, 5 million for the endowment fund for operating expenses.
We have challenged, in writing and on KENI radio, Alaska's political leaders, fellow veterans and veterans supporters to pony up $333 each - or anything between one dollar or $333 if they can't afford the full donation, or more than $333 if they can afford it.
On Friday, October 25th, at the Bartlett High School gubernatorial debate, we asked Lt. Governor Ulmer face-to-face following the debate if she would please contribute $333 from her PFD for real Veterans Homes. Regrettably she refused. She even refused repeated requests for a lesser amount going down to $5. She said that the matter needed more study and that she would get back to us. Incredibly, Lt. Governor Fran Ulmer could not bring herself to make a $5 contribution for real Alaska Veterans Homes without the need for further study.
The following day, on Saturday, October 26th, we put the same question to Senator Frank Murkowski face-to-face in front of 100 fellow veterans and with Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Tony Principi, standing by his side. Frank's immediate and unhesitating response was, “Yes, sir, I'll write you a check right now. To whom shall I make it out?” We told him, “State of Alaska, for Veterans Homes”. On the spot, he took out his check book, wrote the check and gave it to us to take it to Governor Knowles for the Veterans Homes fund (see attached copy of check). We turned our attention to Loren Leman, who even though not himself a veteran, immediately wrote out his check (see attached) to show his strong support for the military and veterans. State senator candidate and fellow Vietnam Vet Harold Heinze did not have to write a check or be asked. He walked up to us and gave us his cashier's check for $333 that he had drawn up and prepared the day after we delivered our own cashier's checks to Governor Knowles and issued our challenge. Also, a fellow Vietnam veteran, Vyetta Brown and her husband, Art, gave us their $50.00 check, which for them is a great deal of money.
In less than 30 seconds, we raised over $1,000 for real Veterans Homes. To Frank, Loren Harold, Vyetta and Art, we say, “Thank you and bravo for your leadership in doing the right thing for veterans!” To Fran Ulmer, we say, “Shame on you for not even putting 5 dollars where your mouth is for Alaska's veterans and literally running away from us pleading the need for further study. Think again, Ms Ulmer, and do the right thing - join us.”
All 60,000 Alaska veterans know that real stand-alone Veterans Homes hardly need to be studied any more. They have been studied to death for decades. Frank Murkowski who knows how to count votes and read faces accurately, read the veteran crowd at his press conference Saturday when he was talking Pioneer Home upgrades and the heads were shaking NO side-to-side. He also understood, and so did his good friend VA Secretary Principi the significance of the heads nodding a strong YES when he said that the Pioneer Home solution is merely an interim measure and saying that his goal is real Veterans Homes. Secretary Principi voiced exactly the same sentiment. Finally, Frank really appreciated the meaning of the standing ovation he got from a room full of veterans when he pulled out his checkbook and put his money where his mouth is, not for Pioneer Home upgrades, but for real Veterans Homes.
At 10:30PM on Saturday evening, Loren Leman called us at home, excusing himself for the lateness of the hour, to among other things thank us for our efforts and generosity for Veterans Homes and told us that he had no doubt what so ever that the 40 million dollars we are seeking to raise for construction could easily be accomplished in a couple of months.
You are right, Loren, it can. We Alaskans can surely pony up $333 each from our PFDs, or whatever we can afford, and literally flood the Governor's office with our checks made out to “State of Alaska, for Veterans Homes.” We can raise the money before Christmas. What a gift, real Veterans Homes right now for Alaska's veterans will be. Obviously, with the leadership of Ted Stevens, Frank Murkowski, Don Young, fellow veterans, Tony Knowles, and hopefully change-of-heart Fran Ulmer, and other elected officials, candidates, and veterans organizations, the money can rapidly be raised. All these political leaders and service/veterans organizations have lists of thousands upon thousands of supporters and contributors, to say nothing of friends and family members.
So what do you say, folks? How about it? To Ted Stevens, Don Young, and Tony Knowles, you guys are the heavy hitters in Alaska politics and are all fellow veterans. Follow Frank Murkowski's lead and pony up, gentlemen. To Fran Ulmer, Loren Leman like you is not a veteran but unlike you, he showed his commitment to Alaska's veterans in a heartbeat. Come on, Fran, pony up!
Let's us do this together as Alaskans, not as Democrats, Republicans, Undeclared, Independent or anything else - as Alaskans. Let's raise the 40 million dollars state share for construction. Ted Stevens will secure and transfer the federal land and appropriate the 80 million dollar Sea Lion parity two-third federal share in the lame duck session. You can take it to the bank. Ted will come through for Alaska's veterans and Ted will also see to it that our 10 million dollar justice compensation gift gets appropriated directly to the Alaska Veterans Home fund. We have absolutely no doubt about it because it is the right thing to do for Alaska, as Ted's campaign commercials remind all Alaskans, “Ted Stevens has always done what is right for Alaska.”
We appeal directly to all of you. Please take out your checkbooks yourselves, and in the case of our political leaders, pull out all the stops to help raise the 40 million dollars in any and all ways you can.
Thank you, God bless you all. Do the right thing for Alaska's veterans. Together we will transform Alaska from last place in America in Veterans Homes to first place. We will build the best Veterans Homes in the country, right here, in the Great Land because Alaska's veterans deserve them and are worth it!
Ted and Francoise Gianoutsos
Founding members of Vietnam Veterans of America Anchorage Chapter 904
Founders of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
Founding Members of the Alaska SeaLife Center
Alaska PFD Gift Assignment Philanthropists