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Cuts to veterans home cut in new budget

While legislators debated long hours last week in search of a compromise on the state budget, tossing around million- and billion-dollar figures like coins at a penny ante poker game, a small amount of money was discovered at the 11th hour, reducing the cut to the New Hampshire Veterans Home and allowing many of its residents to maintain what family members have called a level of dignity.

The $10.7 billion budget approved by lawmakers Wednesday calls for slicing $500,000 in funding over the next two years to the residence in Tilton, which houses 191 state veterans who have been honorably discharged after having served in active duty in the armed forces or New Hampshire National Guard.

But after initially proposing a $1.5 million cut, which would have prevented the home from covering the cost of incontinence care products, the new reduction means that those who need this type of care will continue to receive it, free of charge.

Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, a Democrat from Concord and chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, said the Legislature noticed extra cash after receiving extra information.

“After the budget went over to the Senate, some new information became available,” Wallner said. “The budget wasn’t done yet; we were still working on it.”

The work between the parties was arduous to say the least, with one session lasting until 3:30 in the morning and the entire process taking House and Senate members away from their full-time jobs.

In the end, though, funding products needed for those who have made great sacrifices for this country became a common theme as legislators began to realize what their initial cut to the home would mean for some veterans.

The facility has traditionally paid for incontinence products, separate from the room and board charges, which are levied on a sliding scale based on a resident’s retirement income.

The products are costly, sometimes in the neighborhood of $300 per month. That fee will remain on the veterans home’s tab, confirmed yesterday by Commandant Margaret LaBrecque.

“We will be notifying all of our residents and families and loved ones that the incontinence care products will be continued to be supplied to them at no cost,” LaBrecque said. “And also, of course, we’re very pleased with Rep. Wallner and Sen. (Chuck) Morse as well as the budget committee of conference for reducing our cut.”

LaBrecque added that the veterans home will balance its budget despite the cut by delaying new hires.

“What we’ll be looking to do here at the home is by dragging positions, we should be able to achieve that reduction,” LaBrecque said. “Dragging positions is when someone leaves and another person doesn’t get hired for months. As that happens, salaries and benefits would be able to cover that cost of the cuts so it will not affect the resident directly and not affect staffing. We’re very pleased and very thankful.”

So is Dianna Maffucci of Epsom, whose husband, Francis, served in the Marines. He has lived at the veterans home the past 20 months because of dementia. Dianna pays $1,068 from Francis’s monthly Social Security check of $1,253
and said a monthly bill for disposable undergarments would have cost her an additional $288 per month.

She was thrilled yesterday when told the news.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Maffucci said. “I saw it in the paper that the proposal was switched from one amount to another, and I thought that was very good. I thought with $250,000 per year less in cuts, they would be able to make that up in a more humane fashion than what they had said they were going to do.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or
rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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