MILLEDGEVILLE — Four months after they were pushed out of a state dormitory in a budget-cutting move, life is a mixed bag for Georgia veterans on their own.
Many have found more freedom and larger quarters, living in mobile homes or apartments instead of the 8-by-8 rooms they had at the Georgia War Veterans Home.
These aren’t mansions or even middle-class houses. But they have their own bathrooms and carpeted floors instead of a dormitory’s tile.
Others have simply scattered. Eighty-one veterans were told to leave the Wheeler Building at the home last fall. The war veterans home said it didn’t have hard numbers last week to show who went were.
But 27 of them were sick or old enough to be moved from the state’s dormitory-style units and into a government-funded veterans hospital or nursing home, a spokesman said shortly before final closure last year. As for the others, a department spokesman said staffers are keeping up with the ones “that want to be kept up with.”
Others simply “scattered like the wind,” McGee said. One man was found living in “the most nasty place I’ve ever been in my life,” she said. A group of local sorority women was sent in to clean.
The veterans themselves said a few of them have died since the move, though there’s nothing to show those deaths stemmed from leaving the war veterans home. Some said they are happier now than they were at the home. Still others are struggling outside the veterans home’s supervised walls.
“It seems like, since they left the vets home, their health is deteriorating,” Vietnam veteran Eleazar Elizalde said of some of the men he met in the two years he lived at the home. “It’s depression, you know? They’re not around people.”
When the state announced it was closing the Wheeler Building’s “domiciliary” floors to deal with dwindling state revenues, there was an outcry of bitterness, and much of that remains. Veterans, Milledgeville area residents and local politicians remain upset over the closure and the way the state went about it.
Veterans were given 90 days and help from state officials to find new places to live. The closure saved the Georgia Department of Veterans Service about $2.7 million a year — enough to hit its 10 percent cut target in one fell swoop, while affecting only one hundredth of a percent of the state’s veterans.
Many of the veterans qualified for vouchers, which help cover rent. Many get disability pay or some other form of government subsidy. The community reached out and filled in some holes, donating furniture, dishes and the other things some of these men hadn’t had to think about for years.