Staff through the flags (copy)

Staff at the Cameron Veterans Home practice singing for an ensemble that will be presented to the troops who reside in the home.

When it comes to caring for veterans, the instinct is to do everything possible to serve those who served us.

It’s the right sentiment, but state officials are correct to express reluctance to build a new veterans home any time soon. reports there are no plans to add to the current number of seven facilities that provide skilled nursing for aging veterans, despite an offer of land for that purpose in Franklin County.

At this point, Missouri doesn’t appear to have a capacity issue as much as a staffing issue. In Cameron, the Missouri Veterans Home has a waiting list of 29 people due to what’s described as a critical shortage of skilled nursing staff, especially certified nursing assistants who operate on the front lines of patient care.

The 200-bed facility has 25 CNAs in training, with efforts made to work with Missouri Western State University, Hillyard Technical Center and North Central Missouri College to develop trained staff. The goal is for the facility in Cameron to maintain the proper ratio of nursing staff to veterans.

One veteran at the Cameron facility says it takes a “big heart and a soft voice” to provide the best care. These kind of skilled-yet-caring individuals become hard to come by, especially in a rural area with low unemployment. Turnover is high, with those who do enter the CNA field sometimes seeing it as a stepping stone to more advanced training to become a licensed practical nurse or a registered nurse.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the employment outlook for nursing assistants is expected to grow 11 percent from 2016 to 2026, with retiring baby boomers fueling the need for more care. Nursing assistants make an average of $28,500 a year, according to BLS national statistics, but that average salary falls to $22,000 in the St. Joseph area, where living expenses are often cheaper.

With this in mind, rather than build a new veterans home, state resources are better utilized on boosting pay for nursing staff and continuing partnerships with colleges and training sites for these essential caregivers.

Caring for veterans, or anyone who deserves to age with as much comfort and dignity as possible, should be considered a noble profession. However, it’s still a job that is subject to other competitive factors that stretch employers looking for qualified staff.

We hope the state continues to explore solutions to fill these vital positions because it’s a challenge that won’t fade away. Of the 20 million veterans in the United States, 6.8 million served in the Vietnam era and another 7.1 million served from the first Gulf War to the present day.