published Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Cleveland/Bradley County State Veterans home project spurs grant debate

Bradley County Commissioner Mark Hall
Bradley County Commissioner Mark Hall

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The proposed site for the Cleveland/Bradley County State Veterans Home has received passing marks in an environmental assessment, a critical benchmark in making the facility a reality.

That assessment, however, has taken a back seat to heated discussion among county commissioners about the recent denial of an application for a $30,000 grant to cover facility site preparation costs.

Commissioner Mark Hall, who serves on the veterans home panel, repeatedly expressed dismay Monday that the project's application for a grant through Bradley County's Healthy Communities Initiative -- a program intended to support improvements in health care, wellness and quality of life -- had been turned down for recommendation to the Bradley County Commission.

"The Veterans Home Council has certainly been a good steward of the money that's been given to us," Hall said. "I'm shocked and very disappointed tonight, and it sort of borderlines being offensive to the veterans of Bradley County."

Hall asked that the Healthy Communities board reconsider and recommend the grant request for approval by the commission, stating the veterans facility "is a picture-perfect blueprint of what falls within the bounds of HCI."

The Healthy Communities decision was driven by timing and limited funding of $96,000 to address $300,000 in requests, said Commissioner Adam Lowe, who serves on the Healthy Communities board. Considering the long-term scope of the veteran home project and involvement by various state and federal agencies, it was thought that a delay until the next grant cycle was appropriate, he said.

"There are a lot of players that have to put their chess pieces in place, and so there was no reason to believe this jeopardized or delayed this project at all," Lowe said.

About $7 million from Bradley County, Cleveland and an anonymous donor remain committed to the project, veteran services officials said. None of that money is tied to the Healthy Communities program.

Lowe also expressed concern about Hall's comments about offending veterans.

"I think it's absurd, I think it's emotional, and I think it's without cause to think that anyone on [the Healthy Communities] committee or anybody on this commission is trying to offend veterans on their actions to do things for health, wellness and quality of life for this community," Lowe said.

The veterans home project received a $60,000 Healthy Communities grant in 2012 that funded the recently published environmental studies.

"[The Healthy Communities panel] is trying to spread money to various projects in the community, and I'd say that if somebody got $60,000 one year, they might not get it the next one," Commissioner Ed Elkins said.

A public hearing featuring the authors of the environmental assessment will be held Feb. 28 at the Bradley County Courthouse.

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