RUSS REPORT - As we usher in 2013, the City of Los Angeles remains the homeless capitol of the nation. Veterans, by the thousands, still sleep on the dangerous streets every night.
Building 209, a three story- 46,000 sq.ft. facility at the West LAVA, slated for renovation after eight years, will accommodate 65 veterans out of an estimated 8000 homeless veterans in Los Angeles.
In 2004, Santa Monica Councilman Bobby Shriver proposed that buildings 205, 208 and 209 be used for permanent/ therapeutic housing but it was not until 2007 that the buildings were designated as such.
Finally, on December 3, 2012, VA Secretary General Eric Shinseki announced a contract had been awarded to Westport Construction Company in Arcadia, California, for $17,600,000 … ten million dollars more than originally projected in 2008. The renovations are not expected to be completed until 2014. Buildings 205 and 208 remain empty with no plan in sight for renovations. In fact, there are over one hundred buildings on the WLAVA campus that are vacant, closed or underutilized.
The Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs Fact sheet says, “Building 209 will include 55 apartments, of which 45 apartments will accommodate one resident each and 10 of the apartments will accommodate two Veterans each. The facility will focus primarily on those whose recovery plan, established by VA health professionals who treat each individual Veteran, recommends long-term therapy and support in a residential setting.”
“Cherry-picking” a handful of “qualified” veterans who have a “recovery plan” will not even put a dent in the existing homeless population of Los Angeles. Those numbers stand to dramatically increase in coming years and there must be a plan in place to address veteran issues before a veteran reaches the point of homelessness.
A recent study by Stanford University reported a staggering “700,000 service members will suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), while a Policy Brief written by Nancy Berglass (Director of the Iraq-Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund for the Center for a New American Security) showed, “Rates of depression, brain injury and suicide among warriors and veterans are high and increasing.
Military use of psychiatric medications has increased 76 percent since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), with 17 percent of the current active duty force on anti-depressants from 2005 to 2009 alone. Service members took their own lives at an average rate of one every 36 hours. Reliable scientific studies report that PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBi) afflict up to 35 percent of all troops.”
By 2014, it will have taken ten years to secure plans and funding from the VA for one building. In the interim, thousands of soldiers returned to the US from Iraq in December 2011 and thousands more are slated to return from Afghanistan.
Mr. Ken Falke, Chairman and Founder of Boulder Crest Retreat in Bluemont, VA, is a 21-year combat veteran of the US Navy, retired Master Chief Petty Officer and a retired US Navy EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) expert who serves as a subject matter expert for the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security.
Falke and his wife donated 37.5 acres of their farm to build Boulder Crest Retreat. Falke knows the three biggest problems in the veteran reintegration process are unemployment, homelessness and suicide. Falke’s plan on the east coast would work just as well on the west coast. Their goal is to give veterans and their families a chance for quality respite early in the healing process at no cost. He expects to offer these services to 250-500 families per annum.
Berglass is convinced that the VA and the Department of Defense (DOD) must do more for veterans to move them beyond just medical treatment.
“The Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 VA budget offers a number of promising recommendations for appropriations that are meant to “maximize efficiency and effectiveness,” but most of the recommendations focus primarily on medical care and benefits payout rather than on the systemic change needed to move veterans through entitlement and medical care and toward wellness,” said Berglass.
“The VA system,” she added, “is perceived by many veterans and advocates alike to penalize veterans as their health improves. The current VA strategy to meet veterans’ needs and foster their successful reintegration into civilian society lacks focus and direction. It sets forth numerous goals, objectives and metrics but fails to articulate a coherent, focused and prioritized vision for the agency and, more broadly, for how the nation will care for its veterans.”
Falke agrees. “The medical evaluation boards and the VA disability systems are broken and they just don’t seem to be getting better. I consistently hear horror stories from the families and it really bothers me. We need to figure out a way of ensuring our veterans can really get connected back to society here in the US,” he said.
Programs, similar to Falke’s Boulder Crest, could easily be integrated at the WLAVA through the same “sharing” agreements or Enhanced Use Leases as those given to entities such as Richmark Entertainment, the Brentwood Theater, Mariott Hotels, Enterprise Cars and Tumbleweed Charter Buses, among others, that have nothing to do with veteran care and rehabilitation.
In addition to preventive measures that can be accessed immediately, more than just a spattering of expensive apartments is needed to address the homeless veteran population.
Most chronically homeless veterans cannot maneuver the maze of paperwork, do not drive and otherwise cannot get access to care they need.
With already 8000-plus homeless veterans in Los Angeles, a million claims clogging the VA system, thousands more veterans returning from war with illness and injuries and 2015 just around the corner, Shinseki’s own words … “I learned long ago that there are never any absolutes in life, and a goal of zero homeless Veterans sure sounds like an absolute. But unless we set ambitious targets for ourselves, we would not be giving this our very best efforts” … may come back to haunt him.