Struggling to Care For Our Broken LA Veterans
LOS ANGELES—Americans have always taken care of their war veterans. As early as 1636, the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts passed a law stipulating that the colony would support soldiers who became disabled during the American Indian Wars.
With the Revolutionary War of 1776, Congress encouraged enlistments into the voluntary army by providing pensions if soldiers became disabled. The individual states and their communities were responsible for disabled veterans’ medical care.
After the Civil War, various states built veterans homes for the ongoing care of their disabled veterans and their families. This health care was later extended to all veterans through these state veterans homes, regardless of whether or not the illness or injury was caused while in military service, and the care encompassed indigent veterans without cost.
In 1888, Congress passed a bill that required states to set aside land to establish veterans homes to care for their disabled Civil War veterans and thereafter. One of these sites included 600 acres donated from two local landowners for the Los Angeles National Veterans Home, also called the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System (GLA).
The GLA West Los Angeles Medical Center campus now encompasses slightly over 400 acres after the construction of I-405 and other roads and federal buildings.
Several nonveteran commercial entities have leased land from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on the L.A. veterans home site.
“Today, there’s a public dog park, public community park, public golf course, two public theaters, and other gross misuse of this sacred land, including a state-of-the-art collegiate baseball diamond occupied by UCLA and oil extraction taking place on this site,” said Robert Rosebrock, a veterans’ advocate with the Old Veterans Guard and critic of local VA policy.
Rosebrock has been protesting the violations of the Land Grant Deed of 1888 regarding the Los Angeles National Veterans Home every Sunday afternoon since March 2008, along with other concerned veterans, on the corner of Wilshire and San Vicente, bordering the facility.
Rosebrock and others approached the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) regarding this issue, and the organization took the case based on the deed’s language. The deed states, no less than five different times, that the land is “to locate, establish, construct, and permanently maintain a branch of said National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.”
A federal judge dismissed two of the legal claims, and just one remains—a claim that challenges the legality of the land leases on the property.
10 Years Later: Additional Federal VA Beds Are Coming
At the Jan. 25 groundbreaking of the first federally sponsored VA rehabilitation building in at least 10 years, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky made his position well understood at the podium, saying, “This has been a long, long time in coming.”
He is pleased that something is now happening at the veterans home to support L.A.’s disabled veterans.
Joan M. Mooney, assistant secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs for the VA, described the broad support that has developed over the past decade to assist the housing of homeless veterans.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development in particular has been a key player in providing homeless housing vouchers to help chronically homeless veterans obtain permanent housing. Various housing authorities and state agencies are assisting in this effort. Other long-term private care facilities are also contracted to support the veterans.
L.A. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl addressed the topic of male combat veterans of war who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a common combat-related mental illness that is treated at the L.A. facility. “We do not know how to fully deal with it,” said Rosendahl.
Rosendahl then announced with loud applause from the audience, “Females can now be combat soldiers.”
According to data from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) report, “Veterans Affairs Current Trends—About Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Brain Injury in Iraq’s War Veterans,” enlisted soldiers have a 38 percent PTSD rate, Marines have a 31 percent PTSD rate, and National Guard units have a 49 percent PTSD rate. The PTSD rate for females is expected to be twice the rate of males, based on civilian rate studies.
The Other Side of the Coin
“I first wrote Secretary Shinseki four years ago when he first took over the VA and I’ve sent him repeated letters about the malfeasance and misappropriation of Veterans property,” said Rosebrock after the January groundbreaking event. “I’ve probably sent him over 50 letters and never received one response.” He also pointed out that numerous buildings on the site are empty—buildings that were previously used to treat and house disabled veterans.
“It has taken 10 years for the VA and our Congressional representatives to get a mere $20 million to fund the rehabilitation of a single building previously used for treating mentally ill veterans,” he said.
Rosebrock expressed concern because “this and other buildings here have a dark history of experimentation on our disabled veterans.” He wants to see a new building not affected by medical research on veterans for psychotropic drug testing, lobotomies, and other treatments.
Looking at rehabilitation costs for the West L.A. VA Building 209, $20 million for 55 rooms for 70–90 veterans calculates to a cost range of $220,000 to $285,700 per veteran, depending on the final occupancy. An official from the City of Los Angeles, who did not want to be identified, said, “They could almost buy a home for each veteran for that cost.”
“If our U.S. government can ‘nation build’ around the world after the devastation of war, then this same U.S. government can demolish these antiquated, asylum-looking structures and build a modern Veterans Home here in the land of the free,” wrote Rosebrock in a Veterans Today article.
Nation’s Largest Concentration of Homeless Veterans
The “2011 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count (GLAHC) Report” revealed that the number of homeless veterans in January 2011 was 8,131, which is 18 percent of L.A.’s homeless population. This was a 3 percent increase from the prior 2009 biennial survey. Also noted was that 31 percent of homeless veterans were chronically homeless—up 19 percent from the previous 2009 report.
In general, the overall homeless count in Los Angeles has gone down by 3 percent. This may be attributable to an improving economy and employment for nondisabled veteran workers.
Hopes of fewer disabled veterans on the street may not be fulfilled. According to the NASW report, a totally different trend is reflected. “[For Vietnam veterans], homelessness is becoming a major problem. But unlike with Vietnam veterans, when the homelessness occurred after years of service, these returning soldiers who become homeless are doing so within a year or less. … Combat trauma is thought to be largely responsible for this problem.”
The 2013 biennial GLAHC again conducted its on-the-ground homeless census with 5,000 volunteers at the end of January. The new report is expected midyear.
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