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State vets' agency head calls on lawmakers for more assistance

A military honor guard presents the colors during Georgia's Memorial Day celebration in May 2024.
A military honor guard presents the colors during Georgia's Memorial Day celebration in May 2024.

Veterans in Georgia are getting help from the state government, but they need more.

That was the message to state lawmakers from Patricia Ross, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Veterans Service. She spoke at the first meeting of the Georgia Senate Study Committee on Veterans’ Mental Health and Housing.

While acknowledging that state budget writers have put more money into helping veterans in recent years, Ross called on lawmakers to do more, especially for the state’s War Veterans’ Homes, where eligible veterans can receive skilled nursing home care.

"We are supposed to be housing almost 2,000 veterans," Ross told senators.

But according to Ross, the state’s two War Veterans’ Homes are only housing about a fifth of that number. Funding for those facilities is provided in part by the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs, which provides 65% of construction costs and a daily reimbursement for patients.

The state has two War Veterans’ Homes, said Ross, one in Milledgeville and one in Augusta. But, Georgia lags behind other, smaller states.

"We have two and we've got Alabama opening six and seven," she said. "They have half our population. Same in South Carolina. They have half our population."

Ross, a retired US Air Force colonel, also talked at length about veteran homelessness in Georgia. Veterans are more likely to be homeless than civilians, and a growing number of homeless veterans in Georgia are women.

"An overrepresented population within our homeless [population] is women veterans, and so that's something that we as a state really need to look at," Ross said.

Homeless women veterans can be a more complicated group to help as well, she said. Many homeless women veterans have children to shelter as well.

Ross asked lawmakers to consider spending money on eviction prevention programs to help homeless veterans.

The Senate study committee will continue meeting through the year with the goal of bringing forward new legislation in next year’s legislative session.

Martin Matheny is WUGA's Program Director and a host and producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters.' He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on WUGA and GPB Classical. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.