Military veterans are a unique group of citizens who committed to sacrificing their lives, if necessary, for their country. Some live with the scars of war, physical wounds and life-changing mental injuries. These military veterans are owed special consideration by grateful Americans for their service to our country and their willingness to except the risks of serving.
Currently Citrus County has 22,000 resident veterans and, if one includes the surrounding counties, the number rises to greater than 137,000. Some have served in combat, and some have served during times of peace. Some for two years, others for a full career. The great majority of veterans do well in life either in or out of the service. Most achieve comfortable retirements and most enjoy family support.
But some vets are not so fortunate. The death of a spouse may lead to loneliness and lack of support. Perhaps there is no family. A small number lack financial resources as they enter their retirement years. Aging alone, they do not have the help needed to deal with routine activities of daily living. Some will have physical impairments perhaps with vision and hearing and perhaps mobility. Some will lack adequate transportation and be unable to shop for food or get to medical appointments. Most in this situation will not have the needed social interactions that improve health, extend life and make their remaining years worth living.
The story of private John T., a wounded Korean war veteran who retired to Beverly Hills and died in his home alone is typical. Left behind in his house were his cherished Purple Heart award, photographs and momentos from the time that he served his country. It is sad that John died alone when, had assisted living services been available, John could have spent his last years with comrades and spouses enjoying shared memories and receiving the help he truly needed. We have promised ourselves we will find a place for John’s medals and photos and a place for other veterans like John.
Four years ago, plans were initiated to construct a not-for-profit affordable assisted living facility for veterans in Citrus and the surrounding counties. It would be a place where they could receive the services and the assistance they had earned, a place where they could spend their waning years enjoying the company of other vets and spouses.
This veteran-themed assisted living facility may soon become a reality. County Commissioners have given us a long-term low-cost lease on property located next to the VA medical clinic in Lecanto. Feasibility studies have been completed. Architectural drawings are done for a one hundred bed facility, and a mortgage loan from the USDA is in place.
As a nonprofit tax-exempt organization, the planned Veterans Village assisted living facility will be able to charge rates to veterans that are well below the Citrus County market. Veterans Village will provide a full-time Director of Veterans Affairs who will coordinate with veterans and spouses to help with their move to the new residence and with settling their affairs. The director will assist veterans in receiving any VA benefits to which they may be entitled. The director will also assist with veterans’ health care needs coordinating with the local VA and local medical facilities.
Once the Veterans Village assisted living is open and operating, a portion of profits and charitable donations will be used to help resident veterans and spouses remain in place, should they experience financial shortfalls. A widow will not be forced to move from Veterans Village because her spouse has passed on, and she no longer has adequate revenues. Consideration will be given, as well, to admitting needy veterans who may not be able to afford even discounted rates.
We are in the process of trying to acquire approximately $3 million of equity to meet the requirements of the loan. The land provided by the County counts for about $700,000. The founding group of veterans has contributed $70,000. The Citrus Memorial Hospital Board recently awarded us $153,000. Our state representatives and the VA have so far been unable to provide financial assistance, but will continue working with them to see if any grants may be applicable to help acquire the needed equity. We will also be asking for help from organizations and individuals for charitable contributions.
Looking to the future, Veterans Village has plans to create additional beds for assisted living on the site. In time and with adequate funds, a memory care unit and perhaps a facility for independent living will be added. The Veterans Village concept — non-profit, affordable, veterans-themed assisted living — should become a statewide model for providing full services to aging and deserving veterans.
Stay tuned. We will keep you posted as to our progress.
William Dixon is a graduate of Columbia University, New York Medical College and the USF College of Business Administration. He served in the Army as a surgeon and as a Special Forces Officer, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Georgia before establishing a private surgical practice in Inverness. Contact Dr. Dixon at email@example.com.