The Veterans Administration, while tasked to be of service to all veterans, has been known to fall short of that lofty aim. The number of unemployed, homeless veterans is soaring and we keep hearing that their mental health issues aren’t being addressed.
For instance, a recent story — brought to light by Hal Donahue in the Huffington Post – defies logic and common sense. A brief history: in West Los Angeles, land was donated in 1888 to “establish, construct and permanently maintain” a national home for veterans. 400 acres of land in West Los Angeles is now a very valuable chunk of land.
The ACLU brought a class action lawsuit against the VA, after the Metabolic Studio wrote a position paper “Preserving A Home For Veterans” concerning the use of the Veterans Center land in West Los Angeles. According to a recent report by Dr. Sanjay Gupta for CNN, for almost a century, veteran facilities including housing, post office and other facilities were built there. According to the ACLU’s attorney on the case, Mark Rosenbaum, during the Vietnam era veterans were removed from the property.
The VA has leased parts of this property to various outside businesses, including a golf course, a college baseball stadium, theater and practice fields for the exclusive private school Brentwood. The ACLU lawsuit demands that this property be returned to the use of veterans. According to the position paper, this tract of land is restricted in usage under a deed of 1888 which stated that this property is for the use of veterans, specifically as a home for disabled veterans. We are told that the VA is going to renovate some of the buildings.
There are thousands of veterans who are homeless in Los Angeles, living on the streets, under bridges, and even sleeping in front of the gates of the very Veterans Center that is supposed to help them. The class-action suit is in mediation to try to resolve the situation, after a judge refused to throw out the case as was requested by the Department of Justice.
Rosenbaum claims that a DOJ attorney has said that “We don’t believe that the VA has any authority or any responsibility to provide housing.” That statement is stunning. DOJ has refused to make any comments because the case is still pending but the chief of staff for the VA health system in LA has said he thinks the resources exist to “end homelessness for veterans” in LA.
A recent Veterans Affairs Department survey, released after Sen. Patty Murray of Washington requested it, showed that even the VA’s own providers find that there are “chronic inadequacies.” An op-ed in the New York Times discussed the report. in which 70.6 percent of the respondents to the study said their own facility “does not have adequate mental health staff to meet current Veteran demands for care.”
Even though the VA says that the data shows veterans can get an appointment within 14 days, they did realize that certain types of treatment that the respondents feel their patients require are not “as readily available,” as well shortages of specific providers such as case managers. The results also show that 46 percent reported a lack of off-hour appointments and that workload problems meant clinicians are being pulled away from direct care to conduct C&P exams.
The growing patient population (according to the report, from 2005–2010 the number rose by 39%) leads to 50.1% of respondents reporting that the growth in patient numbers meant mental health staffing shortages.
In the midst of this budget fight, in the midst of threatened cuts, we must continue to support our veterans and we must continue to pay our debt to them. Their wellbeing is a direct reflection on us and on our country. It is shameful that anyone is living on the streets without a safe, warm place to live.
It is even more shameful that a man or woman who served their country should be living on the street. When a service member returns and requests mental health services, or displays symptoms, they should not have to wait more than a week for treatment, they should not be told there is no room, no help, no one to help them. Hiring freezes should not mean a veteran cannot get the help they need.
Photo: Patrick Feller via flickr