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Advocates Urge More Homes for Veterans

Hearings: Facilities are needed in urban areas, legislators are told. The VA complex in Westwood is called a prime site.

November 27, 2001|KENNETH REICH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With scarcely a word about problems plaguing the state's existing veterans homes, legislators heard a parade of witnesses Monday urge the opening of several more.

At a Los Angeles hearing held by Assemblyman Herb Wesson (D-Culver City), leaders of veterans organizations, California's new temporary secretary of veterans affairs and the chairman of the Governor's Commission on California Veterans Homes contended that new homes in urban areas would draw more veterans.

Wesson and other legislators seemed ready to vote for a new home in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs complex in Westwood after touring a proposed 38-acre site.

Wesson said that in a time of war, it is appropriate to do more for California's 2.8 million veterans, the most of any state, although the existing homes in Yountville, Barstow and Chula Vista are not full.

The Barstow home lost its certification and federal funds 16 months ago because of poor patient care and sloppy management. The new home in Chula Vista cannot accept new patients until the Barstow facility is recertified.

But most of the testimony Monday was that the existing homes are far from Los Angeles County, where 30% of the state's veterans live, and that the existing sites often cannot attract health care workers because most live too far away.

Wesson said the state has $50 million in veterans bonds available to construct homes, although he said operational funds would have to come out of the state's general fund, which has a projected deficit next year.

Still, he said: "This is the time to do it. We should act immediately."

Leo P. Burke, chairman of the Governor's Commission on California Veterans Homes, said the group's first recommendation is that immediate action is necessary and that the Legislature should immediately approve building as many homes as possible.

Burke said the majority view is that the best new site would be the one in Westwood because of its accessibility not only to the VA but to many other medical treatment facilities.

Veterans older than 63 with low incomes are eligible to live in the state's veterans homes. But even if several homes were built, the total number of accommodations offered would be fewer than 10,000, according to testimony heard Monday.

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