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Governor seeks study for vets home

November 11, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Veterans in Washington County who spend Veterans Day commemorating their contribution to the country's freedom might have something else to celebrate in a few years: a veterans home in Hagerstown.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening last month said he would request money for a study to determine the need for a veterans home.

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He also asked the Maryland Veterans Commission to accelerate efforts to establish a regional veterans home in Western Maryland.

A feasibility study and marketing survey are the first steps in the project, which has long been a priority for local veterans organizations.

"Our veterans were willing to give their all for us, and we need to and we will do the same for them," Glendening said in a statement.

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Local veterans greeted the news warmly.

"We've been pushing and pushing and pushing for a veterans home for the last 25, 30 years," said James L. Sprecher Sr., president of the Joint Veterans Council of Washington County.

A committee of veterans and local officials identified a spot behind the state-owned Western Maryland Hospital Center off Pennsylvania Avenue as the best location for a veterans home.

"It's the ideal spot there," said Sprecher, who was chairman of the committee that identified the site. "It's within reach of Hagerstown proper. It's got bus service, and if need be, the VA clinic is already there."

If approved by the General Assembly next year, the study would analyze the location and the population density of veterans in the region, said Don Vandrey, a spokesman for Glendening.

The results would be used to justify federal funding, which could account for 65 percent of the costs.

Vandrey said a veterans home in Hagerstown would be in keeping with Glendening's strategy of placing veterans facilities throughout the state. A study is under way for a Central Maryland veterans home in Baltimore County, he said.

"The goal has been to try to decentralize a little bit so veterans can stay close to home," he said. "The governor's very much aware of the desire in Western Maryland."

At present, the only facility in the state that provides residential living and comprehensive nursing care for veterans is the Charlotte Veterans Home in Southern Maryland.

Ray S. Linebaugh, secretary of the Joint Veterans Council, said he has lobbied for a veterans home for years. The stumbling block has been a location.

He said he has long advocated Fort Ritchie, but the Maryland Veterans Commission has determined that the roads in that area are inadequate.

Other potential sites also have fallen through, Linebaugh said.

But the site behind the hospital, which is owned by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, has broad backing, he said.

"That's the clincher, because that's the main thing you've got to find," he said.

The size of a veterans home in Hagerstown would depend on the outcome of the feasibility and marketing studies, Vandrey said.

Sprecher said he favors a 120-bed home.

It would be an attractive option for veterans whose spouses have died, he said.

Although many veterans live in private retirement homes, Linebaugh said they would be best served by living among other veterans.

"I think veterans deserve a home of their own," Linebaugh said.

"A little camaraderie would help in a veterans home," Sprecher added.

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