Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, is sponsoring a bill that could expand eligibility for veterans' long-term care facilities. | Colin HackleySen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, is sponsoring a bill that could expand eligibility for veterans' long-term care facilities. | Colin Hackley

Lawmakers may allow spouses to live in veterans facilities

Published on November 15, 2023 at 11:22 am

A Florida Senate panel this week backed a proposal that would allow veterans’ spouses to qualify to live in state-run long-term care facilities for veterans.

The measure (SB 174) also would allow parents of military members who died in service to be eligible. The Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee approved the bill in a unanimous vote.

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Sen. Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican who previously served as executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, filed the bill for the 2024 legislative session, which will begin in January.

“This bill recognizes very simply that it’s not just the service member who put the uniform on and sacrificed; that it’s also the spouse,” Burgess told members of the Senate panel.

READ MORE: Florida veterans are backing legislation to make November Veteran Appreciation Month

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The expanded eligibility would apply to veterans’ nursing homes and what are known as domiciliary homes, or assisted living facilities. The state operates eight skilled nursing facilities and one assisted living facility.

Nearly 1.5 million veterans live in Florida, according to the most-recent data from the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Florida’s veterans’ nursing homes were at 94% capacity as of October, and 11 people are on a waiting list to move into the facilities, a Senate staff analysis of the bill said.

Burgess told The News Service of Florida that “there is a need” for more veterans’ nursing homes, and “we are continually looking to expand.”

Burgess also said the number of veterans in the homes has bounced back after admissions were reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That’s gone back up to a very healthy level,” Burgess said. “Veterans will always have priority. There’s a ranking in terms of priority … and veterans will always have priority admission. So we’re not necessarily taking a bed from a veteran. But if there’s available space and there’s a spouse, and there’s not a wait list of veterans looking to get into the home, then a spouse would be able to join their loved one.”

In the ranking system for admitting people to the facilities, spouses or surviving spouses of veterans would be in second-to-last place after all categories of veterans. Parents of military members who died in service would be ranked below the spouses.

The Senate staff analysis said the average cost of care per day in veterans’ nursing homes is $394.15.

Non-veterans who would enter facilities under the expanded eligibility system would have to bear the costs, the staff analysis said.

“A qualifying non-veteran resident will have to pay full cost to reside in a state veterans’ home. However, the resident would otherwise have to pay at another home, or for a private residence. For the spouse of a resident veteran, cost savings may be realized through the spouses sharing a room or assisted living arrangement,” the analysis said.

Sen. Jay Collins, a Tampa Republican who served in the U.S. Army Special Forces, described the bill as having the potential to keep families together. Collins is a Purple Heart veteran who was wounded several times in combat, with one injury requiring amputation of a leg.

“In going through many of the experiences I’ve had as a wounded warrior,” Collins said, “I had an incredible amount of guilt every single time I was separated from my family throughout this process.”

The Senate bill would need approval from two more committees before it could be considered by the full Senate. A similar House bill had not been filed as of Tuesday.

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Lead image: Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, is sponsoring a bill that could expand eligibility for veterans’ long-term care facilities. | Colin Hackley