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Veterans Home Defunding and Privatization Questioned

March 11, 2011

HELENA, Mont. - Pressure to cut state spending has landed on the doorstep of the Montana State Veterans Home in Columbia Falls.

An amendment to the spending bill for state services would cut funding to the home by $2.2 million and encourage the Department of Public Health and Human Services to turn it over to a private contractor.

John Fleming of St. Ignatius says his father-in law, Doc West, who served as a Marine in World War II, is receiving excellent dementia care at the facility's special-care unit. Fleming suspects the legislative move is a step toward dismantling the veterans home.

"If you turn it over to a private facility and then give the company $2 million less to operate with - their mission is going to be operating for a profit - I'm just not sure if our veterans are going to get the service that they should get."

A vote in the state House of Representatives to reverse the amendment could happen as early as today. About 150 Montanans, members of the public employee union MEA-MFT, work at the home.

Fleming says his service as a former state legislator puts him in position to question the motives - and he doesn't think it's really about any needed cost savings.

"I know a little bit about the budgeting process and I'm fiscally conservative, too, but boy, I was shocked to see this one."

More than 2,000 people in Columbia Falls have signed a petition opposing privatization of the home.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - MT