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Lottery ticket pitched as solution to Missouri's veterans home funding woes

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Loyd Seabaugh drove his tank through the surf and onto the sandy beach in Normandy, France, trying in vain to dodge the bodies of soldiers littering his path.

It was June 9, 1944 — three days after the initial D-Day landings. Seabaugh was a tank operator for the Army’s 2nd armored division, nicknamed “Hell on Wheels.”

Seventy years later, tears still come to Seabaugh’s eyes as he recalls the scene.

Seabaugh, now 92, is surrounded by people who understand. He has lived in the St. Louis Veterans Home for eight years and appreciates the company of fellow soldiers.

Seabaugh is lucky. Many Missouri veterans find themselves waiting to get into one of the state’s seven veterans homes.

The Missouri Veterans Commission doesn’t have the money to expand its current homes or build new ones. But Rep. Sheila Solon, R-Blue Springs, hopes a scratch-off lottery ticket, subject to voter approval in August, will eventually generate enough money to provide more beds.

“(This ticket) would bring a lot of new customers,” Solon said. “There are people, like my husband, who are veterans and would never buy a lottery ticket, but they would buy this.”

If Amendment 8 passes, Missouri will join a number of states that have implemented a similar funding source for their veterans — but not all are seeing growing dollar signs.

Seabaugh’s voice catches in his throat as he ticks off the friends who have died while at the St. Louis home.

Unfortunately, Seabaugh’s sadness is someone else’s happiness: A veteran’s death means a bed has opened up.

About 1,350 veterans live in the state’s seven veterans homes. While they receive the care they need, more than 1,900 others wait in line.

Larry Kay, commission executive director, says more space is needed to accommodate the growing list. But money funneled into the Capital Improvement Trust Fund — set aside for the construction, maintenance or renovation of the state’s veterans homes and cemeteries — has dwindled since 2008.

The focus has shifted to maintaining the current locations, Kay said, because the commission can’t afford to do much else.

Additionally, all money needed to run the commission comes out of the trust fund, even though that wasn’t its intended purpose.

In fiscal year 2014, the commission had a budget of $115 million, about $30 million of which comes from casino entrance fees — the state’s only contribution. The rest, about $85 million, comes from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs contribution of $100.37 per veteran per day and home residents’ contribution of up to $2,000.

Daniel Bell, commission spokesman, said about that much is needed just to maintain operations.

But even supporters of the scratch-off lottery acknowledge they have no idea how much money it would generate. Even millions per year wouldn’t be enough to raise the $50 million needed to build a new home.

“(The ticket) doesn’t really address the larger picture if (building a home) is something we want to do in the future,” Kay said.

Still, the measure passed overwhelmingly in the Legislature this spring. The Senate approved it 27-4, and the House favored it by a tally of 132-10.

One opponent, Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, D-Kansas City, said a new ticket is not an appropriate funding avenue for veterans.

“You take a dollar from someone and you’re only giving the beneficiary back a few nickels,” LaFaver said. “I think you’re shortchanging (veterans) and I think the only way to fund (the commission) is through general revenue.”

Despite the waiting list, Missouri has more homes than any other state except California and Texas, which both have eight. Florida and Oklahoma join Missouri with seven each, according to the National Association of State Veterans Homes.

Missouri has the nation’s 15th-largest population of veterans: an estimated 497,874 as of last year, the most recent number available. The total number of veterans has been dropping over time — for example, Missouri had 572,403 in 1998 — and the Department of Veterans Affairs expects that trend to continue.

Washington state learned a valuable lesson between 2010 and 2011 — patriotism does not necessarily motivate its gamblers.

In 2010, Washington’s lottery started selling raffle tickets with a goal of handing the state’s veterans department $300,000.

From Labor Day to Veterans Day, tickets were sold and advertised across the state. The program was so poorly received, however, the lottery could only give half of what it intended.

Even fewer tickets were sold the following year, prompting the Legislature to take it off the books in 2012.

“Players don’t care who (the ticket) benefits,” legal counsel Jana Jones said. “They’re interested in the game with the right odds to win.”

Other states have used lottery tickets to raise money for veterans, with varying degrees of success.

Iowa, for example, has generated about $2 million to $3 million each year since fiscal year 2009. Illinois, on the other hand, has seen a drop since 2006, when the ticket was implemented.

In fiscal year 2008, Illinois saw veterans ticket sales of about $2.5 million. By fiscal year 2013, sales dropped to $715,000. Alison Walters, deputy chief of staff, attributes the drop to the lottery’s privatization in January 2011. Sales were already decreasing then, however, reaching only $1.1 million in fiscal year 2010.

“The declining revenue is an ongoing problem,” Walters said. “(The private company) doesn’t market the same way we used to.”

Solon believes the veterans ticket will bring success — for veterans and education, the current beneficiary of lottery proceeds.

“Anytime you can bring in a whole new customer base, I think that improves sales,” Solon said. “Veterans will come buy tickets and maybe buy an additional ticket.”

The veterans ticket needs voter approval because the state constitution stipulates Missouri lottery proceeds go to education, the only state program that receives proceeds. About 24.5 cents of every dollar spent on the Missouri Lottery is funneled to education.

But in three of the past five years, lottery proceeds earmarked for education have dipped below levels appropriated by the Legislature.

In fiscal 2014, the state received nearly $50 million less than the $315 million the Legislature expected.

The Missouri National Education Association isn’t worried that a veterans lottery ticket might affect other lottery sales. The estimated proceeds for the ticket aren’t very high, said Otto Fajen, the association’s legislative director. “We didn’t feel like it was as clear and significant enough of an issue to really take a position on.”

Taped above Seabaugh’s bed is a picture that stands out among the other 100 or so. It’s the biggest and one of a few Seabaugh appears in — it’s of Seabaugh and his wife of 60 years, Helen.

After she died in 2006, Seabaugh’s home suddenly seemed too big and empty. So, he filled out the paperwork to move into the veterans home. He’s been living there ever since.

“I got lonely,” he said.

In the eight years he’s lived in the home, it’s become what its name suggests: a home where Seabaugh can enjoy his time with good company.

He loves bingo days and funnel cake nights. He loves going to church services in the home’s chapel. And he loves watering his flowers in the courtyard as he shoots the breeze with other residents.

Rep. Solon, backer of Amendment 8, says she hopes one day more veterans can experience the same kind of life.
 

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