The crowd at the Armed Forces Retirement Home could become a little livelier if Congress approves a plan to try to get the home back in the black.
Residents unable to pay a rent increase of up to 106 percent are leaving, wiping out the waiting list to get in the homes for enlisted men and women at Gulfport and Washington. Occupancy at Gulfport last week was 86 percent.
Retired Maj. Gen. Stephen T. Rippe, the chief executive officer of the homes, wants to change that.
“Our average age is 83 and we’re 90 percent male,” he said in a teleconference last week. “Most individuals wait until their spouse expires before they come here.
“We wanted to give our veteran enlisted population the opportunity to come here and enjoy the lifestyle here while they’re younger and more vibrant and can enjoy their married life here. Our goal is to drive that age down to 75 or 76 the next few years.”
As it stands now, husbands and wives can live together at the home provided both are eligible. Residents must be at least 60 years old and have 20 years of active duty service, a service-related disability or service in a combat zone and are unable to earn a living.
A dwindling number of women also are eligible because they served a women’s component such as the Women Accepted for Volunteer Military Services or the Women’s Army Corp.
If the bill passes (the conference report with the AFRH changes has passed the house and awaits action in the Senate), Chief Operating Office James Branham and the administrators of the two homes could allow some spouses to join their husband regardless of military service.
Public Affairs Office Christopher Kelly said the Gulfport home has six couples — two in special suites for couples, two in adjacent rooms and two in separate rooms that are in separate levels of care.
There are no couples living in D.C. where the rooms are much smaller.