Last week I participated in groundbreaking ceremonies to replace the old Armed Forces Retirement Home (AFRH) damaged by Hurricane Katrina with an entirely new facility at its beachfront location in Gulfport. The event was yet another sign of progress in rebuilding efforts on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It also reaffirms the strong commitment our nation has to caring for its veterans.
Katrina’s wind and water dealt a crushing blow to the AFRH and forced its residents to evacuate. With more than 200 veterans moved to the home’s sister facility in Washington, DC, its residents are anxious to return to Mississippi. Thanks to the work of Coast leaders and bipartisan action in Congress, that goal will soon be realized.
CONGRESS FUNDS REBUILDING EFFORT
Congress appropriated $240 million to demolish the old structure and build a state-of-the-art facility by 2010 that will house 584 residents. It will have the capability to provide independent living, assisted living, memory-support care, and long-term care.
As a member of the House of Representatives and now as U.S. Senator, I have been working with AFRH and Defense Department officials to incorporate new concepts into the services provided at the facility.
The initiative involves elements of the “Green House Model,” which employs innovative ideas and provides for more appealing social settings for nursing home care. The first Green Houses were designed and implemented in Tupelo and involved creation of a warm, open setting for groups of 6-10 individuals. It frees residents from the limitations and routine of a traditional care facility in favor of a more relaxed and flexible setting where residents feel more at home. The model has been successful, and I am hopeful we can use it to improve the quality of life in this setting as well.
AFRH IS UNIQUE SERVICE TO VETERANS
The Armed Forces Retirement Home is a unique facility in service to retired veterans. Originally called the Navy Home, it operated in Philadelphia, PA, for 142 years before relocating to Gulfport in 1977. It was combined with the Soldier’s and Airmen’s Home in Washington, DC in 1991 to become the AFRH. Veterans from any service branch can live at either home.
The idea of creating a home to care for aging veterans is almost as old as the country itself. The plan was first discussed in the James Madison Administration, and as early as 1799 sailors contributed 20 cents of their salaries per month toward this goal. That was combined with fines against Naval personnel for various infractions to become the primary source of funding. From 1934-1991 the home was included in U.S. Navy appropriations, but today the operations are sustained by active-duty personnel contributions, fines and forfeitures, and fees from residents.
RISING ABOVE HARDSHIPS
Many of the veterans who still call the AFRH-Gulfport facility home have faced adversity before on the beaches of Normandy or Iwo Jima, the cold of Korea, the jungles of Vietnam, or the heat of the Middle Eastern desert. These brave veterans met the call when the nation needed them to defend our country. Hurricane Katrina provided another hardship, but help is on the way to overcome that challenge as well. We honor our veterans’ commitment and service by rebuilding this facility to provide comfort and care in their seniors.