By Krysta Scripter
The veteran population in Reno has been on the decline. According to the latest Census statistics, the number of civilian veterans living in Reno between 2000 and 2013, dropped by approximately 18 percent.
But organizations that service veterans are seeing quite the opposite.
“We really haven’t seen a decline in people,” said Kathi McGathey, House Manager of the Veterans Guest House in Reno.
Located across the street from the Veterans Affairs Sierra Nevada Healthcare System, the Veterans Guest House provides a home away from home for those veterans who need a place to stay while undergoing medical treatment in Reno. Most of the houseguests live outside of the Reno city limits and often travel hours to get to their treatment.
“I’m here because I’m going through cancer treatment, radiation, and chemotherapy,” said Dave Morris of Silver Springs in Lyon County, more than 40 miles outside of Reno.
Morris served in the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1970 and has been staying at the Veteran Guest House for four weeks while he receives treatment for colon cancer at a nearby clinic. Morris undergoes radiation and chemotherapy five days a week. Each session is 15 minutes long but the process drains him.
“The radiation is pinpoint,” he said. “It’s like a sunburn … so sometimes it gets a little uncomfortable.” On bad days, Morris sometimes needs to stand. He doesn’t go home everyday because the hourlong drive home to Silver Springs can be excruciating .
Morris had been apprehensive about seeking treatment at the V.A. hospital. “It wasn’t any good,” he said. “But now it’s phenomenal. They’re watching out for us better now. Not like in the old days.”
The number of nightly stays at the Veterans Guest House increased from just under 4,000 in 2010 to nearly 5,200 in 2014. Most of the stays are for two to three days but there are instances when veterans and their spouses stay for several months. McGathey said a longterm senior care home for veterans would be better for them.
“I have a lady that has been with us for five years. She is here five days a week,” said McGathey. “She could never take her husband home from where he is at the V.A. now. But if they were at a longterm care, she could actually stay with him at that home.”
The Nevada Department of Veterans Services is planning to build a veterans senior care center in Sparks that is expected to be open in 2017.
Unlike Reno, Sparks is experiencing a slight increase of veterans from 7,296 in 2000 to 7,924 in 2013, according to Census figures.
When completed, the Northern Nevada Veterans Home is expected to serve just under 100 veterans and their families. That would help address a bed shortage of more than 375, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The only stateowned nursing care facility for veterans is in Boulder City. The Nevada State Veterans Home has 180 beds and costs veterans $110 to reside there, according to the state veterans department. Comparatively, nearby facilities cost $233 a day.
Rick Shuster, Board Chairman of the Reno, Nevada Vietnam Veterans of America, has been advocating for a fullfledged veterans home in Reno. “It’s definitely long over due,” he said. There are more than 80,000 veterans residing in Northern Nevada, according to the Nevada Department of Veteran Services.
Plans began in 2006 but only recently did Governor Brian Sandoval include a veterans home in his budget for Reno.
Kathi McGathey, of the Veterans Guest House in Reno, welcomes a longterm facility. “We’re always full,” and she has a waiting list. She sends the overflow to The Sands Regency Hotel in downtown Reno. She said the hotel housed more than 600 veterans for them last year.