Veterans Fight to Preserve West LA Veterans Grounds

veterans-day.jpgVeterans fight to preserve LA Veterans grounds. Yesterday Citizens For Veterans’ Rights (CFVR) received word from Congressman Henry Waxman’s office that the Real Property Exchange Program Manager ACSIM-Army Reserve Division announced “that phase 2 of the West LA Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will begin in the next few weeks … for the sale or transfer of the 10 Acre Army Reserve property.”

The notification concluded stating, “the public meeting dates have yet to be scheduled, but are anticipated in the beginning of 2009.”

This means CFVR will again engage the federal government over a property issue we believe should have been settled long ago. The land was part of the original 1888 grant to the federal government and while an argument could be made that it was needed during the Cold War, the usefulness of the property by the Army is obviously no longer necessary. It must be returned to VA to be administered as part of the West Los Angeles Medical Center.

As we prepare for next fight with the U.S. Army Reserve, it is useful to provide perspective on the overall fight with the federal government and VA over services for veterans and how it relates to all veterans.

Last week the Los Angeles Times ran an article about a new Rand study that revealed 20% of the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or suffered from depression.

As I write, we are following the news about the lawsuit brought against The Department of Veterans Affairs by Veterans For Common Sense and Veterans United For Truth. Documents from the court proceedings show that Veterans Affairs officials know that nationwide, up to 18 veterans a day commit suicide while in VA care.

Covering the lawsuit, Jason Leopold, in an article from the Consortium News writes:

Senior officials at the Veterans Administration debated internally how to downplay evidence of a stunning number of suicides and suicide attempts among veterans who were treated or had sought help at VA hospitals around the country, according to newly disclosed internal VA e-mails.

On Feb. 13, 2008, Ira Katz, the VA’s mental health director, and Ev Chasen, the agency’s chief communications director, exchanged e-mails discussing P.R. strategy for handling this troubling news, according to evidence made public Monday in a federal court case in Northern California.

The exchange came in the context of how to handle inquiries from CBS News, which was reporting on the surge of suicides among U.S. veterans – reaching an average of 18 per day – with part of that rise attributed to soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In an e-mail headlined “Not for the CBS News Interview Request,” Katz notified Chasen that the VA had identified some 1,000 suicide attempts per month among war veterans treated by the VA.”

At Citizens For Veterans Rights (CFVR) we’ve been pointing out the problems regarding patient care for years. We have worked diligently to bring to light problems we have had with VA officials using deceptive figures and information to cover their tracks on a host of issues affecting veterans. To ensure that the general public and the media understood what has been happening, we have cited specific incidents at the WLA VA Medical Center as an indicator in Southern California of problems experienced by veterans nationally with VA.

Last year, we demonstrated in front of VA to call attention to the poor health care veterans were receiving last year after stories ran in the national media about the death of Justin Bailey, a 27-year-old Iraq War Veteran with PTSD who died of a drug overdose of prescription drugs while at WLA VA. At the same time, we knew from a variety of sources at the hospital and clinics that in an eight-month period ending about the time of Bailey’s death, at least six other veterans at the WLA VAMC had either committed suicide or died of drug overdoses. One veteran killed himself with a handgun in front of the main hospital, another died by hanging himself on a fence on the North portion of the VA property.

The deaths of those veterans make it clear that the men and women returning from war zones with psychological injuries need a place dedicated solely to their recovery. This is why we at CFVR are working diligently with our local and national elected officials to protect the WLA VA property from commercial development. We believe that veterans need a place where they can heal and recover from their injuries, rehabilitate in peace and receive the kind of dedicated mental health care they need to attempt a transition back to civilian life.

We have not worked to protect the property so it [can] be turned into a public park as the Veterans Park Conservancy (VPC) believes it has the right to do. We have not preserved the property to maintain the property values of the surrounding neighborhoods or to maintain a pleasant view for the community. We worked to pass the legislation so the WLA VA property would be dedicated to services for veterans only and we believe that was the intent of protecting the property with the Federal Legislation passed by Congress within the omnibus 2008 budget bill signed by President Bush in December 2007.

Stopping the proposed development of a public park by the Veterans Park Conservancy is a moral issue. It is past time for our elected officials to do what is promised of veterans. It is time to act with the integrity we expect of them as they expected of us when we served in uniform. We in the veterans’ community want veterans taken care of as promised when they agreed to serve their country and agreed to sacrifice their blood, sweat and tears for the values this country holds dear — namely truth and justice.

It is not only outrageous, it is a national disgrace that during a time of war, organizations like the Veterans Park Conservancy both compound and foster the problem in their own backyard by advocating the property be used for something other than its original purpose — helping veterans.

Furthermore, it is hypocritical for those local community leaders who like to proudly say they worked to protect to property from commercialization and to maintain it for veteran use, to now go along with the proposition that a portion of the property should be turned into a park for public use.

That means the land at the West LA VA must be dedicated to veterans services only as intended when the land was donated to the federal government in the 1880’s, with the proviso it be solely dedicated to veterans services. That is a covenant that must never again be forgotten or broken.

Please forward this article to your elected officials so they will understand the linkage of evidence to the health care needs of veterans. These politicians must now ensure that veterans seeking help will have the services of mental health care professionals available at the West LA VA and other VA Medical Centers around the country. Ensuring that those services are provided includes the passage of the Mental Health Improvement Act of 2007 we have written about before (S2162 and HR. 4053) and passage of HR 2514 the Assured Funding Bill [for Veterans Affairs] as advocated by Vietnam Veterans of America and their local representatives James Maddox and Jerry Yamamoto. The passage of HR 2514 will go a long way toward providing VA with the funds necessary at the national level to provide better services to all veterans in need (see below for a summary):

Assured Funding for Veterans Health Care Act – Requires the Secretary of the Treasury to make available to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for programs, functions, and activities of the Veterans Health Administration for FY2008 130 percent of the amount obligated during FY2006. Adjusts the amount provided for fiscal years after FY2008 based on the number of enrolled veterans and the number of other persons eligible but not enrolled who are provided care, multiplied by the per capita baseline amount for FY2006, as increased by the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index.


Prohibits the availability of such funds for: (1) construction, acquisition, or alteration of veterans’ medical facilities (other than for repairs provided for before the date of enactment of this Act); or (2) grants for the construction of state home facilities for the furnishing of veterans’ domiciliary, nursing home, and hospital care.

Keith Jeffreys
President
Citizens For Veterans’ Rights

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