Non-profit envisions veterans' home in Chinle

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

CHINLE, May 19, 2012

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A handful of veterans' widows and children seems on the verge of accomplishing something the Navajo Nation has talked about for decades: a home for elderly veterans.

Plans for the $14 million Nabaahii Bighan ("warriors' home") were unveiled here April 11 at a meeting of the Navajo Nation's Health, Education and Human Services Committee.

The 60-bed facility, providing a full spectrum of care levels, would be funded by the Navajo Housing Authority with 65 percent of the cost reimbursed by the U.S. Veterans Administration after the home is built.

If the Council approves the plan, construction could start this summer and be completed within two years.

The plan was tabled by the Naabik'íyátí Committee at its last meeting and remanded to the Health, Education and Human Services Committee for review.

The committee accepted the report of the Nabaahii Bighan All Veterans Auxiliary, the all-volunteer nonprofit that hatched the plan with the help of Wayne Claw, CEO of Navajoland Nursing Home.

The new facility will sublease on the nursing home's campus, and possibly share some support staff and services.

NHA's board of directors has already endorsed the plan and passed a resolution asking for the Council's support. The plan also has the support of the Central Navajo Agency Council.

Polly Nez, the AVA's liaison with the Chinle Agency Veterans' Organization, said the only opposition the plan has received has been from some Council delegates from other agencies, who don't like seeing so much funding concentrated in Chinle.

Nez said Chinle is the perfect place for the home.

"This is for all veterans, not just Chinle veterans," she said. "We're centrally located. Anybody can come here."

The home would be the first such facility on an Indian nation, but it wouldn't be just for Navajos.

"Because it would be constructed with VA money, any veteran would be welcome," she said.

Nabaahii Bighan, as envisioned in an artist's rendering provided by the group, would be a two-story, 60-bed facility with private rooms and bathrooms for each resident, satellite TV, limited telephone service, an arts and crafts room, common areas and outside space for visiting and barbecues.

There will be a library, family visiting areas and two dining rooms.

To give it a community feel and allow residents more control, each of 10 rooms will be a "pod" with its own elected leader who will run community meetings and represent his community in planning activities and events.

"The pods will function like neighborhoods," Nez explained. "The residents will never have to feel lonely or isolated."

A staff of about 90, including occupational therapists, speech therapists, social workers, doctors and nurses will be available and possibly shared with the nursing home.

The home will be self-supporting, with each resident paying for his or her room out of his military retirement, disability check, ACCCHs, Medicare, Medicaid or private funds.

"These wouldn't be free rooms," Nez explained. "We want the home to be sustainable and self-supporting."

Housing for the staff would be provided on-site.

Some veterans could bring their spouses to live with them at the home, but to accept the VA funds, only 25 percent of the home can be dedicated to spouses.

AVA estimates the home would bring $4 million to Chinle just in personnel salaries and benefits.

According to the AVA, there are at least 172 Navajo veterans in nursing homes away from the reservation.

"We're very concerned about the veterans living far from their families," Nez said. "This is a way to bring them home."

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