Health Care Liberty and Justice

New State Veterans’ Homes in Works

Tennessee is in the planning stages for additional state veterans homes in Montgomery and Bradley counties, the state commissioner of Veterans Affairs told the state VFW’s 82nd convention Friday in Nashville.

State Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder also lauded conditions at the state’s current veterans homes, and said the state is prepared to open its fourth veterans cemetery in Knoxville in July.

The state has veterans homes in Knoxville, Murfreesboro and Humboldt, and all have received deficiency-free inspections, the commissioner said, adding that it puts them in the 99th percentile of all nursing homes in the state.

“When you walk through those doors, it doesn’t smell like a nursing home,” Grinder said. “That’s a big thing to me.”

The Murfreesboro home recently received a five-star rating from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the highest rating any nursing home can receive.

Ed Harries, executive director of the state’s veterans homes, noted in a recent statement that less than 15 percent of more than 300 nursing facilities in the state are given five-star ratings. The rating includes health inspections, staffing and quality. The Murfreesboro home opened in 1991, the Knoxville home in 2006 and the home in Humboldt 1996. Each has 140 beds.

“Not long ago, the quality in our veterans homes was substandard — shameful, shameful,” Grinder said Friday. “They deserve nothing but the best.”

The state’s homes provide plenty of activity for residents, she said, listing residents’ visits to locations like Graceland, the Jack Daniel’s distillery and an air show.

“It’s not a place just to lay their heads at night. We really try hard to make it a home environment,” she said.

The planned homes in Montgomery and Bradley counties already have funding lined up from federal, state, county, city and donated dollars. The Montgomery County site will be the next to be ready, with Bradley County to follow, and funds are being sought for a home in Memphis.

Not everything about the department is good news, however, according to Grinder. She said she recently met with the head of gold-star mothers in Memphis.

“It was heartbreaking for me to know she had difficulty getting to the grave of her son because of the mud,” Grinder said. “It was heartbreaking for me to see sunken graves because of drainage and erosion. It’s a swamp over there. I’ve asked the U.S. VA what it can do to help us.”

She said the national VA is sending someone to look at the sites in Knoxville, Nashville, Jackson and Memphis and the potential for building more veterans cemeteries in the state. One projected new site for a cemetery is in Madison County.

“Tennessee is a long state. If you are a family member, if you want to go visit your loved one, whether it is in a veterans home or a cemetery, I think we need to be able to have something that makes it a lot easier for families to do so,” Grinder said.

The state Department of Veterans Affairs is one of the smallest departments in state government with less than 100 staffers. Grinder has re-organized the department and has named geographical commissioners for each of the state’s three grand divisions. Don Smith serves as assistant commissioner in East Tennessee, Wendell Cheek in Middle Tennessee and Mark Breece in West Tennessee.

Grinder said so far this fiscal year, the department has secured more than $800 million in federal funds for Tennessee’s veterans, their families and survivors. But she pointed to the economic stress on many families.

“There are a lot of economic difficulties right now. A lot of our veterans are really suffering physically and emotionally because of their service to their country, and we cannot afford to fail them.

“What keeps me up at night is I know we still have veterans that don’t know what they may be entitled to. I know we have veterans that are still suffering because they have not received medical care. I know we have widows that are living in poverty that may not know they may be eligible for pensions. And it is our duty to make sure we get this word out.”

Gov. Bill Haslam addressed the convention as well. He said he takes his responsibility as commander in chief of the Tennessee National Guard very seriously.

“We worked hard to protect the things in the Veterans Affairs budget,” Haslam said after the meeting. “We have some significant adds in terms of the new cemetery in Knoxville, and we have some money in there for a new veterans home in Clarksville, which has been long delayed.

“Once we get that done, that kind of frees up the funds where we can do another veterans home in Bradley County. Both of those have been hung up in the process a long time.”

Haslam told the convention audience that the first burial in Knoxville will be a re-burial of a member of the family who provided the property for the Knoxville site, which overlooks the river.

Grinder’s first name began as a nickname, but she legally changed it to make it official. She is a former director of logistics for the Tennessee Army National Guard in Nashville. is an independent, not-for-profit news organization supported by donors like you.

Press Releases

More Disaster Declaration Requests for Obama from Haslam

Press Release from Bill Haslam, Governor of the State of Tennessee, 7 May 2011:

Requests Assistance for Benton, Carroll, Crockett, Dyer, Gibson, Henderson, Henry, Houston, Lake, Lauderdale, Madison, Montgomery, Obion, Shelby and Stewart counties

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has asked President Obama to declare 15 counties as federal disaster areas due to a series of severe storms, straight-line winds, flash flooding and the record flooding of the Mississippi River, beginning on April 19, 2011.

Should this request for assistance be granted, Benton, Carroll, Crockett, Dyer, Gibson, Henderson, Henry, Houston, Lake, Lauderdale, Madison, Montgomery, Obion, Shelby and Stewart counties would have access to varying levels of federal assistance programs.

Haslam may request other counties as damage assessments are completed.

“We have many fine first responders, local leaders and state agencies who have been engaged for many days making sure we can protect and save lives, and protect property, during many severe weather and flooding emergencies,” Haslam said. “Federal assistance would help people restore their lives and help local governments rebuild their infrastructure.”

On April 26, Haslam declared a state of emergency as a precautionary move because of the severe weather and forecast of Mississippi River flooding. Haslam was briefed April 29 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the storms and their effect on water levels along the Mississippi River system, and he toured the levees in Northwest Tennessee with emergency management officials and local mayors May 3.

In the request, Haslam seeks Individual Assistance for Dyer, Lake, Obion, Shelby and Stewart counties, to include the Individuals and Households Program (IHP), Disaster Unemployment Assistance, Crisis Counseling, Disaster Food Stamp Program, American Bar Association Young Lawyers Legal Aid, and Small Businesses Administration disaster loans. The request also seeks assistance through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

Haslam also seeks Public Assistance for all the counties in the request for debris removal, emergency protective measures, and rebuilding and repairing roads, bridges, water control facilities, buildings, utilities and recreational facilities.

The Department of Military, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, Department of Agriculture, Department of Environment & Conservation, Department of Health (EMS), Department of Human Services, Department of Transportation, Department of Safety, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Civil Air Patrol, American Red Cross and Tennessee Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters are responding to the current flooding emergency and providing protective services to help local efforts.

Heavy snow-pack melting and above average rainfall in the Midwest raised the Mississippi River to record flood levels along Tennessee’s western border at the end of April. The rising Mississippi River added to flooding already occurring in many middle and west Tennessee counties due to severe storms and tornadoes in mid-April.

Additional information about state and federal assistance for affected counties will be released as details become available.

Damage assessments continue in East Tennessee following the storms and tornadoes that impacted that part of the state last week. Additional counties are expected to be added to the initial declaration from May 2 as those assessments continue.

For more updates regarding the state’s response, visit the TEMA website at