GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Vietnam War veteran Robert VanGeest was among those who looked on Friday as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer led dignitaries in turning over some ceremonial sand at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.
Whitmer was part of a groundbreaking ceremony for a new, smaller home for veterans in Grand Rapids.
For VanGeest, the reason he supports the new home is simple:
"Right now, you've got two guys to a room where, when they get this built, they'll have one person to a room, so you've got your privacy," he said.
Crews have already started work on the $63 million, 128-bed home, funded by the state and federal governments.
"Our veterans were willing to fight for us, so we need to be willing to fight for them," said state Sen. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, before the groundbreaking.
Instead of a hospital-like institution with more than 500 beds, the new home will feel more like a neighborhood, with four, one-story buildings, each with 32 units.
Veterans will get their own private bedrooms and bathrooms.
Three years ago, a state audit found veterans received poor care at the Grand Rapids facility, which included patients not getting checked on after possible falls, allegations of abuse and neglect that went unchecked and prescriptions not being filled on time.
"There's been a troubled past," Brinks said. "As we started to take a closer look, the state realized that there was a lot of improvement that could be done."
This is part of a plan to build seven new, smaller homes for veterans across the state — instead of the two larger homes in Grand Rapids and Marquette.
"We know that quality of care depends on proximity to family and loved ones and support," Whitmer said. "That's why it's important that we have a real robust system that gives people high-quality care in different parts of our state."
Already, the state is building a new home for veterans near Detroit.
"The guys who are from the other side of the state that are here, they can't wait to go to that new facility over there," VanGeest said.
The state said it plans to open the Grand Rapids home and the new home in Macomb County by the end of 2021.