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Grand Island delegation flies to Washington to lobby officials about retaining veterans home

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GRAND ISLAND, Nebraska — Three members of a local delegation have returned from a lobbying trip to Washington, where they told federal officials the Grand Island Veterans Home should be remodeled instead of giving way to a new home in Kearney.

Grand Island Mayor Jay Vavricek, Hall County Supervisor Pam Lancaster and county veterans service officer Don Shuda traveled to Washington last week, The Grand Island Independent reported (http://bit.ly/1F3lhgT ). They handed out booklets with a letter requesting that the federal officials "intercede in behalf of Nebraska veterans and request that the VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald deny funding for the relocation of the Grand Island Veterans Home."

"We reiterated that our community is still engaged in the process and that we're concerned about the welfare of veterans," Vavricek told the newspaper.

Lancaster said the Washington officials were very receptive, but she, Vavricek and Shuda declined to say who they met.

Gov. Dave Heineman announced in July 2013 that the state would build the 225-bed Central Nebraska Veterans Home in Kearney, replacing the outdated Grand Island facility. The current home has about 375 employees, and a new facility is expected to generate millions in fresh economic activity. The Kearney project is awaiting funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Kearney had won the project in competitive bidding with Hastings, Grand Island and North Platte. The governor's announcement drew protests from Grand Island and Hall County, where officials argued that the process was unfair and that the Kearney project would cost more money.

Officials have said a Grand Island counterproposal prepared for the VA would cost an estimated $80 million, compared with the $121 million needed to build new in Kearney. Heineman has said the alternative proposal could create confusion at the federal level, which might jeopardize the project's funding. The governor's spokeswoman, Jen Rae Wang, said Thursday that she couldn't immediately comment on the Grand Island delegation's efforts.

VA officials have said the decision on where to build rests with state officials.


Information from: The Grand Island Independent, http://www.theindependent.com

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