There is no group of people that is used more for political purposes than our country’s troops and veterans. This politicized behavior began shortly after the Bush Administration launched the Iraq War (taking its eye off Afghanistan) seven years ago this month and continued for the better part of the 2000s. The Bush Administration sent hundreds of thousands of our nation’s men and women half-way across the world to topple the Iraqi government and then re-build that same nation. Once the troops were on the ground, any attempts to have a serious discussion about the purpose of the mission, how the U.S. would finance the war, the adequacy of the troops’ military gear, and the exit strategy were all met with cynical charges of not supporting the troops. Yellow ribbon bumper stickers flourished on cars and SUVs across the nation, as if that was going to protect a Marine that was not issued a bullet proof vest.
Now, seven years later, 4,317 troops have been killed in Iraq, 1,001 killed in Afghanistan and nearly 37,000 have been wounded in action. Moreover, a 2008 RAND Corporation study has estimated that nearly 300,000 troops have suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI), ranging from mild to severe. 54,000 of these veterans will require medical specialists for the foreseeable future. Many veterans suffering from severe TBI will require long term nursing care for the rest of their lives.
In addition to the care of our veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the demand for long-term care among our veteran population is already high and growing at a significant rate. In fact, there are more than 9.2 million veterans age 65 and older. It is expected that this number will remain relatively constant for the next 10 years. However, veterans over age 85 will grow to nearly 2 million. Of these elderly veterans, many lack the financial resources necessary to sustain them in their final stages of life.
These grim numbers are why today’s special oversight hearing held by California’s Veterans Affairs Committee in Fresno is so critical.
The California Department of Veterans Affairs (CDVA) is charged with providing the state's aged or disabled veterans with rehabilitative, residential and medical care and services in a home-like environment. CDVA currently operates the Veterans Home of California (VHC) with campuses in Yountville in Napa County, Barstow in San Bernardino County, Chula Vista in San Diego County, Lancaster in Los Angeles County and Ventura in Ventura County. CDVA is also designing and constructing three new veterans’ homes in West Los Angeles, Fresno and Redding. To be admitted to the VHC, you must be over the age of 62 or disabled.
The CDVA offers complete medical and dental care to its residents. Residents may participate in on- or off-campus activities, civic affairs, or attend veterans’ service organization meetings. They also have the option of participating in a Therapeutic Employment Program or by helping other veterans through volunteer service. All campuses have libraries and host activities such as dances, social events, special programs, arts and crafts, and gardening. Three campuses have golf courses and swimming pools close by. The goal of CDVA is to enable all residents to achieve their highest quality of life in an atmosphere of dignity and respect.
With so many injured Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, many of whom are from California, as well as the increasing number of elderly veterans, below are just some issues the Committee needs to assess regarding the state’s veteran homes:
Given the severity of the current injuries and aging among the veteran population, is CDVA providing superior health care that addresses the special needs of its residents?
Are the support services available to the residents what they need to live a full life?
Are the activities provided on campus satisfying to the residents?
Are there long-term plans in place to be able to house and care for the increasing number of veterans in California?
Is the CDVA reaching out to other veterans groups and homes seeking best practices to implement in California?
We Californians must provide the best care and homes for the men and women who fought selflessly for our country so they can live their lives with the dignity and honor they deserve. We owe them more than just gratitude. We owe them a lifetime of respect and support.
Reports from the hearings will follow in the comments on this post.