MY COMMITMENT TO VETERANS

In March 1888, the heiress Arcadia Bandini de Baker along with U.S. Senator and silver miner, John Percival Jones, donated 300 Acres in W. Los Angeles. The land was deeded to be permanently maintained as a disabled soldier’s home, to be the birthright of all who served in the military wars and battles to defend our nation.

By 1889 there were over 1,000 Veterans living in the Soldier’s Home in W. Los Angeles and for the next eighty years tens of thousands more vets lived there. 

The Pacific Branch National Home for Soldiers became a fully functioning city within the County of Los Angeles. It had everything from a post office to a trolley station. There were 150 acres under cultivation with orange trees all over the place.

The orange trees are all gone. 

The housing fell into disrepair and for the past several decades, the dormitories have been empty. Over the years the VA has leased parts of the site to Enterprise Rent-a-Car for a parking lot, a 20-acre athletic complex for a private school, to the Marriott hotels for a commercial laundry, to 20th Century Fox for storing sets, to UCLA for a baseball field, and used as a dog park. Meanwhile, homeless veterans sleep on the street outside the locked gates. 

While the VA has now after much litigation, designated three vacant buildings to be renovated, as housing for vets, each would only hold 60-65 residents, barely putting a dent in the estimated 8,000 homeless vets living in the streets of Los Angeles.

Through FOIA, major long-term rental agreements as well as related correspondence between the VA and members of Congress have been obtained and reveal that over the past dozen years, the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center has taken in at least $28 million and possibly more than $40 million from the rental agreements. It is unclear what the money is being used for, and the plans to fix the three housing facilities remain unfulfilled. Work is currently underway on just one, Building 209.

There is new legislation that is supposed to jump-start the process for the other two buildings. 

The new bill, a privatization scheme that would allow the VA to circumvent restrictions on extended commercial leases on its property, would allow it to forge a long-term partnership with a private developer to do the necessary renovation, an unfortunate sign of the times where nothing seems to happen, no matter how moral or just, unless someone, somewhere is making a lot of money off of it. 

Even with the privatization scheme, the proposed housing project for disabled Vets will fall far short of our obligation.

I hold a vision for the VA, that it will be used as promised, that it will be restored as the birthright to every soldier as intended. As a healing and comforting home for the broken and damaged servicewomen and men from our recent wars.  A place where many local residents so skilled in the therapies and modalities required for healing these broken souls will find an abundance of employment and service opportunities too.

I also hold a vision that the callous, insensitive, almost Scrooge-like treatment of our military Veterans, leaving 10’s of thousands of them homeless, and living in a brutal reality where 22 veterans commit suicide every day, will become but an unhappy memory, never to be repeated.

They gave their service and now we must give ours, to properly care for them. As a congresswoman I will work endlessly to make this vision a shared vision and a reality.