ROCKVILLE—The Montgomery County Commission on Veterans Affairs met April 16 to discuss issues that included finding space in the county for a second veterans home, which would provide extended care to retired service members.
The meeting began with recognizing prisoners of war and soldiers who are missing in action by leaving one chair empty and observing a moment of silence.
The commission was created in 2008 to provide advice to the county council and county executive on the needs of local vets. It is made up of 17 members, although not all were in attendance. Each commissioner is appointed by the county executive and later approved by the county council.
Today, there is only one veterans home in Maryland, in St. Mary’s County. The 454-bed facility is currently at capacity and has a wait list, according to the commission. Of the available beds, 186 are designated for skilled nursing and assisted living.
The facility, called Charlotte Hall Veterans Home, is unique in that it allows the spouses of eligible veterans also to be admitted to the medical center.
The commission found that much of the veteran population struggles to access the facility because of its location. The veteran’s home is nearly 60 miles away from Montgomery County, which can equate to a drive of nearly an hour-and-a-half if one has access to a car.
The commission’s push to place a more-convenient and accessible veterans home in Montgomery County is facing challenges, however — namely, finding enough space.
“The bottom line is that the county doesn’t have that amount of land,” said Michael Subin, who serves as an ex-officio commissioner for the county executive’s office. “Land is so scarce that it would be extremely costly for someone in the private sector to give up that amount of space.”
The facility would require 20 to 25 acres of land. As much of Montgomery County is already densely developed, especially in the down county, finding enough space has proven problematic.
Another option would be to look for land in the up county, which is far less developed. However, the commission noted issues with building on or near the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve.
The Agricultural Reserve encompasses 93,000 acres of land that was created by the county council in 1980 to conserve and maintain rural areas. It also includes about a third of the county’s total land resources.
Along with the restrictions that come along with the Agricultural Reserve, in 2008 the Building Lot Termination, or BLT Program, was implemented. The program restricts the amount of residential, commercial, industrial and other non-agricultural facilities in the Agricultural Reserve, according to the Montgomery County Planning Department.
Along with these issues is the added problem of infrastructure in the up county. Rural areas don’t have the amount of plumbing and sewer structures already in place for a facility like this one, according to the commission.
In spite of these difficulties, the commission had predicted that Montgomery County would be an optimal location for a new veterans home because of the Gaithersburg Community Based Outpatient Location and other services for veterans in the county.
According to the commission, the proposed facility would consist of several one-level buildings with a maximum capacity of 120 beds with the same services as the veterans home in St. Mary’s County.
Dan Bullis, who serves as chair of the commission, has been in contact with County Executive Marc Elrich about placing a veterans home in the county. Bullis reported that Elrich responded positively to the idea and even went so far as to assign a member of his staff to identify possible plots of land.
The commission estimates that the federal government would fund 65 percent of the project, and the state of Maryland would fund the other 35 percent, but the issue of finding available land remains.
“I really do believe that the single best way to find this space is to cast a wide net to reach that one person that’s willing to dip into their wealthy pockets and make something really great happen,” said Neil Greenberger, who serves as a Montgomery County Public Information Officer.
The commission will continue to look for possible space for the new veterans home.
“There might be someone already out there to ready donate the land,” said Subin.