A veterans' home being built in the hills of southwest Ohio will house 168 people once it opens this summer and already has a waiting list of more than 100.
The Southern Ohio Veterans Home is only the second such home in more than a century to be built to accommodate Ohio's 1.2 million veterans, a number that is growing.
Across the country, states have found themselves planning homes to serve millions of aging veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
"Our World War II veterans are aging and falling ill at an alarming rate. The demand for long-term care is soaring," said Ken Fulmer, president of the Armed Forces Veterans Homes Foundation.
For nearly nine years, Dave Popma, 61, has lived at the 700-resident Grand Rapids Home for Veterans in Michigan. An Air Force serviceman during the Vietnam War, Popma came to the home after a reaction related to his diabetes forced doctors to amputate his foot. He gets around in a wheelchair.
"This has been a godsend for me," he said. "You're with your fellow comrades. You can relate to each other. It kind of takes your mind off of your handicap. It takes your mind off your troubles."
That's why Popma prefers this to a conventional nursing home, where he was a resident for four months.
"It seems like everybody looks out for everybody," he said. "And everybody seems to be in a good mood all the time."
The United States has 26.5 million veterans, 10 million of whom are age 65 and older. Frank Salvas, chief of the state home construction grant program for the Veterans Administration, said that the 65-and-over group is expected to quadruple by 2010.
The first veterans' homes were built after the Civil War; 116 of them are recognized by the VA today, up from 33 in 1991.
Construction is under way on 10 new homes or additions in Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, with plans for 18 more.
"The fact that they're building veterans' homes shows that the need is growing," said Bruce Parry, secretary of Veterans for Unification, a Chicago-based advocacy group that works to improve the health care benefits of veterans. "A lot of people are ending up on the street."
The wait can be up to a year to get into the 114-year-old Ohio Veterans Home in Sandusky.
"There is such a need," spokesman Gary Chetwood said. "It breaks my heart to tell people there's a waiting list."
For Ralph Fox, 63, a Vietnam War veteran, the new $16 million home in Georgetown represents a haven for aging veterans who consider the Sandusky home along Lake Erie too far from family.
Although Fox has made no plans to move into a veterans' home, he said he has his eye on Georgetown.
"This is where we're going when the time comes," Fox said, looking at the two-story, 99,000-square-foot brick building that will have a dining and activities room, a physical therapy room, a chapel, a courtyard and a picnic area.
Construction began in September 2000, with the opening scheduled for July. Veterans are hoping the legislature will eventually fund homes in Chillicothe and Marietta, also in southern Ohio.
To be approved for a veterans' home, states must donate the land and 35 percent of the construction costs. In return, the federal government pays the remaining construction costs and provides $53 a day for the care of each resident.
The state of Washington opened its third veterans' home last year and is replacing an aging portion of a home built in the 1970s.
As in other states, the number of veterans in Washington state is growing, with 649,000 on record, up about 7,000 from 10 years ago.
West Virginia plans to break ground on a $24 million veterans' home in the spring. The state, in which veterans constitute 10 percent of the population, has only a domiciliary facility where veterans can stay for a short time.
Tennessee has two homes, in Murfreesboro and Humboldt.
For the past six years, the United Veterans of East Tennessee and its commander, Gerald Clark, have been lobbying for a home in Knox County, in eastern Tennessee.
"We're isolated here from our VA hospitals," said Clark, 77, a World War II veteran who lost his right leg after the Battle of the Bulge. "We here would be able to fill it so quickly. We'd have a long waiting list."
About 280,000 of Ohio's veterans live within a 50-mile radius of the Southern Ohio Veterans Home, which is being built on a 35-acre lot surrounded by woods.
Fox, an Army infantry radioman who served in Vietnam from 1965 to 1966, said the beds are already spoken for, even though the home is not complete.
"We get calls every day," said Fox, Brown County's veterans services officer.
To be considered for admission, applicants must be honorably discharged military veterans, have lived in Ohio for at least five years and have disabilities that prevent them from being employed.
Veterans "want to go where there are other veterans. I think it's camaraderie," Fox said. "As a general rule, a veteran goes to a nursing home, and he may be the only veteran there."