By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
Illinois Veterans Home residents will pay higher fees starting this summer, following the recommendation of a state panel that held hearings around the state late last year.
Maintenance fees paid by veterans have been $929 per month since 1979. Starting July 1, the charge for new residents will be $1,429 per month for new residents. Current residents will have a five-year phase in, with the fee going to $1,079 this year and going up $100 annually in 2013-15 and $50 in 2016. Starting in 2017 the maintenance fees will be tied to inflation.
Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs Director Erica Borggren said the fee increase will not affect anyone who does not receive enough income to cover the maintenance fee.
Borggren added that residents are allowed to keep the first $100 they receive before the maintenance fee is assessed. The deductible will double to $200. The maintenance fee will continue to be calculated at 90 percent of the resident's remaining income.
"State laws require that we provide more care for our residents ... and what this does is allow us to bring in more funds to provide that same quality of care," Borggren said.
Carol Jardine, president of the Veterans Home's Resident Advisory Group, had felt the maintenance fee increase was inevitable after being held steady for so long.
"Of course there's some grumbling, but it's understandable," Jardine said. "The care that we receive here is well worth it."
Jardine, a Navy veteran, has been at the home for four and a half years. She said even a maintenance fee of $1,430 in several years will be a bargain for her.
"I have one med that costs $2,000 a month. By being here, I don't pay that," Jardine said.
Another Veterans Home resident who asked that his name not be used said collection of the higher fees might lead to a cut in the amount of money coming from the state.
The Illinois Veterans Advisory Council voted Dec. 13, on the maintenance fee changes announced by Borggren. The IVAC, accompanied by Borggren, had held hearings in each of the communities where state veterans homes are located.
Tony Kolbeck, the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs legislative liaison, said at the Quincy meeting that 46 percent of the home's 432 residents in December did not have enough income to pay the full maintenance fee. Kolbeck said nobody will have to leave a veterans facility due to lack of ability to pay.
"If all you can afford is $929, that's all you're going to have to pay, no matter what the maintenance fee does," Kolbeck said.
IDVA officials said it costs an average of $7,424 per month to cover the cost of care for veterans.
State and federal dollars pay most of that cost, but maintenance fees are an important component as well.
Borggren said even at $1,429 per month, the veterans home fees are a bargain compared to private nursing home fees.
State laws that will require veterans homes to provide higher levels of care have contributed to the need for higher fees. Veterans homes currently provide 2.7 hours of care for each resident. Later this year the standard will climb to 3 hours. It will go to 3.4 hours in 2013 and 3.8 hours in 2014. More care staff will be needed each year to meet those standards.
Borggren said she knows the fee increase affects residents and their families. She said many who attended public hearings said they understood the need to increase fees after more than 30 years.
Many said they appreciated the fact that the IDVA sought feedback before making the change.
Former Department of Veterans Affairs Director Dan Grant suggested in 2010 that maintenance fees needed to rise $400 a month. That proposal was withdrawn two weeks later.
Illinois operates other veterans homes in Anna, LaSalle, Manteno and is constructing a facility in Chicago that is expected to be complete in 2015. The home in Quincy was established in 1886, and remains the largest of the Illinois homes with nearly half of the 900 residents in the four current facilities.