Democrats are raising concerns that federal money which had been set aside for new construction at the Iowa Veteran’s Home in Marshalltown may be lost and plans to modernize the facility may be in jeopardy.

The federal money was returned, as bids for the next phase of construction were tossed out in January. Senator Daryl Beall, a Democrat from Fort Dodge who is chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, says legislators only recently found out about the situation.

“I found out this week that we had basically told the federal government, ‘Thanks, but no thanks. We aren’t going to use those federal funds,'” Beale says. “I was shocked. I was surprised. I was saddened.” 

More single-occupancy rooms, with an attached bathroom for the veteran, were to be built, but Branstad administration officials rejected the bids which had been submitted by construction companies for that phase of the project.  The governor defends that decision.

“What happened is the bids were way over estimates,” Branstad says. “…And frankly also the design was not appropriate.”

The federal grant money to help finance that construction has been returned and Senator Beall is concerned Iowa won’t be able to win it back.

“I’m afraid we’re going to get out of sequence,” Beall says. “We’re going to lose out standing in terms of these federal (Veterans Administration) dollars.” 

The governor has a different opinion.

“It’s my understanding that they’re going to get the federal matching funds in a different fiscal year,” Branstad says. “So they needed to turn it back now and then reapply and they feel very confident that they’re going to get those funds.” 

By rejected the bids, the Branstad administration has negated an edict from former Governor Chet Culver that all state construction projects have a “project-labor agreement”. Branstad says such agreements favor companies that use union labor and increase the overall cost of construction. Senator Beall says Branstad’s decision has been a serious set-back in the effort to modernize the Iowa Veterans Home.

“I think we’re doing a disservice to our veterans for political purposes,” Beall says, “and I don’t like that.” 

The governor says the construction plans had to be redesigned and that’s the primary reason the bids were rejected.

“The veterans can be assured that we’re going to do everything we can to provide the right kind of facilities to meet their needs,” Branstad says. 

The Iowa Veterans Home has more than 720 residents and is among the three largest state-run veterans facilities. Five buildings are spread over the 150-acre campus in Marshalltown.  But concerns about housing four veterans in rooms designed for two occupants, plus having eight veterans share the same bathroom prompted the push to build new facilities.

The state sold more than $22.5 million in bonds to help finance the improvements, with a requirement that construction on all phases of the project be completed by 2015.  The federal government committed far more money to the project.