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Overview:

The California Department of Veterans Affairs (CDVA) promotes and delivers benefits and services to the state’s veterans and their families. Based upon a humanitarian philosophy that aiding veterans promotes patriotism by rewarding sacrifice and service to country, the department proves aid and assistance for veterans in presenting claims, provides opportunities through direct low-cost loans to acquire farms and homes, and helps the state’s elderly and disabled veterans with rehabilitative, residential and medical care in a home-like environment at the six California Veterans Homes. The department also provides readjustment assistance to returning veterans and their families. Not surprisingly, there is a strong correlation between these policies and state demographics. California has the largest number of veterans of any state in the nation with nearly 2.1 million vets calling the Golden State home. That’s about 9% of the nation’s entire veteran population. The state also has the highest number of homeless veterans in the country with a staggering estimated 50,000 living on the streets. It follows that veterans make up 26% of the state’s homeless population. Furthermore, the state estimates that 62% of homeless veterans have been diagnosed with both substance abuse issues and mental health problems. Additional benefits and services include tuition waivers for college, job placement services, vocational training, assistance with applying for aid from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, burial in a state veterans cemetery and special outreach programs for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

 

Strategic Plan (CalVet website)

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History:

California’s experience with veterans affairs dates back to the late 19th century and the veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic—a fraternal organization made up of veterans from the Civil War and the Mexican War. On April 12, 1881, the Veterans Home Association was incorporated with 11 members to assist in the care of the aging veterans. A year and a half later, the association purchased 910 acres of farmland in the bucolic Napa Valley at Yountville with $17,750 in donated funds. On April 1, 1884, the first Veterans Home of California opened, with the state accepting title to the property and the buildings, and agreeing to provide maintenance and governance of the institution.

As WWI was drawing to a close, California, like many states at the time, wanted to provide some sort of official appreciation for the returning veterans. The standard state response was to provide veterans with a cash bonus. California took a different tact and instead enacted “soldier legislation” to assist the returning GIs. The legislation provided civil service preferences, educational opportunities, breaks on taxes and fees, housing assistance and other forms of state aid.

In 1921, the Legislature established the Veterans Welfare Board to manage the various programs that had been enacted to assist veterans. It also passed the Veterans Farm and Home Purchase Act, which provided low-interest financing for homes and farms.

By 1929, veterans-related issues had grown significantly and the Legislature responded by creating a state agency to be known as the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. With a new world war looming on the horizon, the state established the California State Guard, which became the nucleus of regiments formed in the state. In 1943, the state modified the Veterans Farm and Home Purchase Act to meet the needs of what clearly was going to be an explosive population boom throughout California. The state also created several panels and committees to aid in the development of a workable program for returning veterans, and to coordinate activities with federal, state, local and non-government agencies.

When WWII ended, the structure of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs was overwhelmed by the needs of the state’s burgeoning veterans population. So, in 1946, the state created the California Department of Veteran Affairs to replace DMVA, and the California Veterans Board to replace the Veterans Welfare Board.

In 1991, the CDVA was authorized to expand the Veterans Home program to several other locations. And in 2000, voters approved Proposition 16, which provided $50 million for the home projects. Since then, homes have opened in Barstow, Chula Vista, Lancaster, Ventura and West Los Angeles. Construction recently commenced on facilities in Redding and Fresno.

In 1994, Governor Pete Wilson signed legislation to take the CDVA out from under the State and Consumer Services Agency and then enacted an executive order elevating the department to cabinet-level status.

In 2010, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger launched Operation Welcome Home, an ambitious, first-of-its kind, $20 million program to reach out to every returning veteran to determine their needs and connect them with appropriate services. Addressing the program in his State of the State Address that year, he noted: “California has more returning veterans than any other state, so our state, as well as the federal government, has a special responsibility. . . . We have a fundamental obligation to anyone who has shed or risked blood for this country. . . . So to those men and women, those brave men and women, I say welcome home, welcome home.”

 

2009-2010 Annual Report (CalVet website) (pdf)

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What it Does:

CalVet coordinates with several agencies and boards to deliver a host of benefits and services to veterans and their families. Its core missions are:

·     providing services and advocacy on behalf of veterans before the federal Department of Veterans Affairs

·     providing service and benefits for women and minority and Native American veterans.

·     the administration of state veterans homes that provide a continuum of care for veterans who choose to live in one of the Veterans Homes of California.

·     the administration of a financially strong and economically successful housing program for veterans and their families through the Farm and Home Load Division. 

Following are the main categories of service and benefits provided to veterans and their families. 

Farm and Home Loans to Veterans: The CalVet Home Loan Program provides veterans, meeting specified requirements, loans for new or existing single-family dwellings, which include condominiums, planned unit developments, units in cooperative housing developments, and mobile homes permanently affixed to land or in rental parks, and for farms. Construction and rehabilitation loans are also available.

CalVet also has a Home Improvement Loan Program to assist active contract holders or homeowners who own their homes free of debt in securing certain home maintenance and renovation improvements. 

Veterans Claims and Rights: The Veterans Services Division provides service and assistance to California's veterans, dependents and survivors. Programs administered consist of: Operation Welcome Home, Veterans Dependents Educational Assistance Program, County Veterans Service Office Program, Medi-Cal Cost Avoidance Program, Claims and Rights Representation, Veteran Cemeteries, and the Veterans License Plate Program. 

Education: The dependent child, spouse or unmarried surviving spouses of a disabled or deceased veteran may be entitled to tuition and fee waiver benefits at any campus of the California State University system, University of California or a California Community College. To be eligible, students must:

·     have a parent who is a disabled vet (0% or more disabled); or

·     have a spouse who is service-connected (S/C) deceased or rated 100% S/C disabled.

·     be a child earning less than $11,369 a year. There is no income limit for a spouse or child of S/C deceased or 100% S/C veterans.

·     attend a California Community College, California State University or a University of California school.

·     provide proof of the student’s relationship to the veteran—such as a copy of a birth or marriage certificate.

Complete eligibility requirements and assistance in applying can be obtained from a local County Veterans Office or a school’s veterans office.
 

California Veterans Education Opportunities Partnership (University of California)

Troops to College program (CalState University)
 

Care of Sick and Disabled Veterans: The six Veterans Homes of California are a system of live-in, residential care facilities offering a comprehensive plan of medical, dental, pharmacy, rehabilitation services and social activities within a home-like, small community environment. Residents engage in a wide range of activities including social events, dances, patriotic programs, volunteer activities, arts and crafts, computer access, shopping trips and other off-site activities. Residents live in an atmosphere of dignity and respect—a sense of a real “home” for each resident veteran.

The facilities range in size from 60 residents on a 20-acre site to more than 1,000 residents on 500 acres. The homes are located in: Yountville, Barstow, Chula Vista, Lancaster, Ventura and West Los Angeles. When the last two homes are completed in Redding and Fresno, the system will house approximately 3,000 veterans.

To be eligible for admission, veterans must be 62 and older and discharged from active military service under honorable conditions. The age requirement is waived for disabled or homeless veterans needing long-term care.

The Veterans Home of Yountville, which opened in 1884, is the largest veterans home in the United States. It houses 1,100 vets in the rolling hills of Napa Valley with on-grounds facilities that include a 1,200-seat theater, a nine-hole golf course, ballpark, bowling alley, swimming pool, auto hobby shop, 35,000-volume library and a base exchange branch store.

Farm and Home Loans to National Guard Members: The California National Guard Members Farm and Home Purchase Act of 1978 authorized the Military Department to sell revenue bonds to provide low-interest loans to National Guard members for the purchase of farms and homes. The loan provisions of this program are similar to those of the CalVet Loan Program. Responsibility for administering this program was transferred to the Department of Veterans Affairs effective January 1, 1997.

Veterans Memorials: This program is responsible for the beautification and enhancement of the California Mexican American Veterans Memorial on state grounds through private contributions. The money in the fund is continuously appropriated, without regard to fiscal year.

This program also supports the Veterans Registry, which is part of the California Veterans Memorial. The provided contributions help to defray the costs of data entry and system management for the Registry and the reasonable costs that are incurred by the Department for administering the fund.

Although there are many boards and committees that interact with the CDVA, there include:

The California Veterans Board: This is a seven-member board appointed by the governor and subject to state Senate confirmation. The panel serves as an advocate for veterans, identifying needs and working to ensure and enhance the rights and benefits of veterans and their families. It also works closely with the CDVA to monitor and weigh in on department policies, hears appeals of vets who have been denied benefits, and prepares reports for the Legislature noting the department’s activities and accomplishments, as well as needs.

Bond Finance Committees: The Veterans’ Finance Committee of 1943 authorizes the issuance of Veterans General Obligation Bonds and Commercial Paper Notes, the issuance of which is used to fund home loans for veterans across the state and/or to economically refund outstanding bonds at a lower borrowing cost. The Veteran’s Debenture Finance Committee authorizes the issuance of Department of Veterans Affairs of the State of California Home Purchase Revenue Bonds, which are used to fund home loans. The Veterans’ Home Finance Committee authorizes General Obligation Bonds for designing and constructing homes and completing renovations when needed.

Mexican American Veterans Memorial Committee: Created by the Legislature to enhance the existing California Mexican American Veterans’ Memorial in Sacramento and to secure private funding to complete the project. 

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Where Does the Money Go:

While most California agency budgets as presented through the state’s Ebudget system are limited in their transparency, the CalVet budget is downright opaque. The largest listed 2011-12 revenue source is the state’s General Fund at about 64%.

The second largest source of funding listed on the website, the Veterans’ Farm and Home Building Fund of 1943 (around 34%), is actually a repository for proceeds from various bonds used to fund veterans’ home purchases. The Federal Trust Fund, according to Ebudget, provided 1.1%, or around $4.3 million.

But according the California State Auditor, CalVet receives a substantial amount of federal funds. The auditor’s revenue breakdown for six years (through fiscal year 2008-09) showed a federal contribution of $311 million through seven different programs, or about $50 million a year on average, for support of the department’s veterans homes. The state General Fund ponied up $542 million for the homes during the same period.

More generally, the auditor broke down the departments expenditures during the six-year period into three basic categories: Veterans Homes Division (55.1%), CalVets Home Loan Program (42.7%) and Veterans Services Division (2.2%).

According to Ebudget, a little more than 62% of the CDVA’s budget as of 2011-12 goes toward the care of sick and disabled veterans at the Veterans Homes of California. Most of the rest pays for administration of funding of farm and home loans. The CalVet Home Loan Program, in addition to providing loans for new or existing family dwellings, also offers a home improvement loan program.

An additional $9.2 million goes toward Veterans Claims and Rights, a catchall for various services that include Operation Welcome Home, the Veterans License Plate Program, assistance for dependents’ education, Medi-Cal avoidance efforts and burials.

About $11,000 goes for the administration of the program to provide low-interest home and farm loans to members of the National Guard, and $61,000 goes to the Veterans Memorial Fund, which is responsible for enhancing the California Mexican American Veterans Memorial through private contributions. It also supports the Veterans Registry.

 

According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, the following is a list of the Top Ten service contractors for 2012. The expenditures can stretch over a length of years, and the duration of each is included.

Contractor
Amount
Duration
Securitas Security Services USA                     
$5,398,500.00
7/1/08 - 12/31/12
United States Department of Veterans Affairs  
$3,734,477.00
7/1/09 - 6/30/14
Morrison Senior Dining
$3,646,885.00
3/1/12 - 12/31/13
Rehab Practice Management LLC                   
$3,048,752.00
7/1/12 - 6/30/15
Queen of the Valley Medical Center             
$2,250,000.00
7/1/12 - 6/30/15
Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center                  
$1,290,000.00
7/1/12 - 6/30/15
Lincoln Training Center             
$817,175.76
3/1/12 - 2/29/14
U.S. Foodservice                          
$661,350.49
 
Panoramic Software, Inc.                                  
$656,800.00
5/1/11 - 4/30/14
Prison Industry Authority 
$527,252.08
7/1/10 - 6/30/13

 

3-Year Budget (pdf)

California Department of Veterans Affairs (State Auditor) (pdf)

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Controversies:

CalVet Leader Quits Under Fire

Since it opened in February 1996, the Veterans Home of Barstow has stood out from the other state facilities for its share of patient deaths and illnesses. The home has 400 beds and provides domiciliary (independent living), intermediate care and skilled nursing care. Acute hospital care is provided at either the Jerry L. Pettis Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Loma Linda (for vets eligible for VA care) or at the Barstow Community Hospital.

On May 15, 2000, CDVA Secretary Tomas Alvarado resigned three hours after a doctor who tried to save a dying 76-year-old WWII veteran claimed that his superiors pressured him to change his report to say the man died of a heart attack, rather than choking. The doctor, Liem C. Vu, refused to change the report and was fired for alleged mistreatment of other patients at the home.

Alvarado testified at a state Senate inquiry that he ordered that Vu be put on administrative leave, and denied that he ordered him terminated. Vu’s allegation that he was ordered to doctor the report on the Feb. 11, 2000, death of Paul Stevens, a retired infantry sergeant, came up at Alvarado’s second confirmation hearing before the Senate Rules Committee.

Alvarado appeared to blame subordinates, angering Democratic Senate President Pro Tem John L. Burton, who accused Alvarado of trying to keep his Cabinet-level job. Alvarado had been accused earlier of sexual harassment of female employees and had no support on the committee for confirmation. Immediately after the committee adjourned without voting, Alvarado went to visit with Gov. Gray Davis, and then submitted his letter of resignation two hours later (he had been serving on an interim basis).

This incident came on the heels of another death at the facility that resulted in a $95,000 fine just two months before the death of Paul Stevens. The February 2000 fine was related to the death two months earlier of a WWII combat hero who was given conflicting medications for a heart condition. State health officials determined that his doctors failed to recognize that he was worsening, until it was too late.

Billy D. McGowen, 78, died Dec. 4 of heart failure after a toxic interaction of two high-powered medications. Yet only five months earlier, in June 1999, the troubled Barstow facility was fined $64,499 in the deaths of one veteran who choked on broccoli, and another whose diabetes was not properly monitored for weeks.

McGowen, according to his son, had been awarded two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart during his service in Europe. According to a state health report, he had returned to the Barstow facility on Nov. 4 from a local hospital, where he had been sent for an irregular heartbeat. A doctor at the hospital had prescribed amiodarone for his condition. Back at the Veterans Home, a staff physician added the drug digoxin to his other medications.

The state report noted that the digoxin and amiodarone cause a toxic reaction. Over the next few weeks, McGowen became extremely weak and there was a dramatic drop in his blood pressure. On Dec. 4, he was taken to the emergency room at a Barstow medical center and died within an hour. Cause of death was listed as heart failure due to the toxicity of his medications.

The controversies were of great embarrassment to Governor Gray Davis, an Army veteran who had proclaimed himself as a “best friend” of California veterans. In December, the governor appointed Republican state Senator Maurice K. Johannessen as secretary of CDVA with orders to see to it that the California Veterans Homes met world-class medical standards. . . . Johannessen was later rejected by the state Senate over unrelated political infighting.

 

State Veterans Affairs Chief Quits Amid Turmoil (by Carl Ingram, Los Angeles Times)

Barstow Veterans Home Fined $95,000 Over Death (by Carl Ingram, Los Angeles Times)

 

State Auditor Critical of CalVet

A report released by the California State Auditor in October 2009 highlighted a number of problems facing CalVet. The audit focused on six counties, including Los Angeles County, and concluded that veterans received fewer benefits than those in other states and didn’t have as much information about what was available.

California, by virtue of being the most populous state in the nation, has the most veterans. But only 12.86% received any form of compensation and pension benefits compared to the national average of 13.94%. Florida and Texas, the two states with the next largest veteran populations, checked in at 14.88% and 16.73%, respectively.

Department officials attributed some of the disparity to the larger number of veteran service staff members in those states. Texas had one for every 5,684 veterans, Florida one for every 8,407 and California one for every 9,577.

But the audit also pointed to a lack of coordination between the department and county veteran service officials in helping ex-soldiers apply for benefits. It also said the department did not have a strong outreach program. In particular, it said there were few direct services to veterans outside of its veteran homes and CalVet Home Loan Program. In particular, the audit said the department provides only minimal direct assistance for veterans facing issues such as homelessness and mental illness.

The report said the department shouldn’t just rely on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the local County Veterans Service Officer programs (CVSOs) and nonprofit organizations to provide such services.

The audit noted a growing housing problem among veterans and said the CDVA needed to address it. It said there was a need for more homeless shelters, transitional housing with services and multifamily rental housing.

It recommended that coordination between the federal, state and local governments must improve.

 

Audit Reveals CA Veterans Fail to Get Their Share of Benefits (by Rick Rogers, Defense Tracker)

California Department of Veterans Affairs (State Auditor) (pdf)

 

Two Veterans Homes Defunded

Ground was broken with great hoopla in mid-2010 on two new group homes for veterans in Fresno and Redding. One year later, both projects were put on hold when the state budget defunded them to help shrink a huge deficit.

The budget cuts were expected to delay opening of the facilities for at least a year.

State commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Department Bobby Price was not happy. “The primary budget bill would require an intolerable year-long delay to 150-bed veterans' homes being constructed in Redding and Fresno, denying necessary services to those citizens who have spent their lives protecting our nation,” he said.

Assemblymember Linda Halderman called it a “betrayal” and vowed to have the $12.1 million restored. “The state should honor the promise it made to our veterans a year ago by immediately restoring funding,” she said.

Both homes were partially funded by grants from the federal government and supporters were hoping that lawmakers in Washington would pressure the state to change its decision.

 

Assemblymember Halderman Calls De-Funding of Fresno Veterans’ Home “a Betrayal" (Assemblymember Linda Halderman)

Veterans Homes in Fresno and Redding Get Delayed in Last-Minute Budget Vote (by Jim Boren, Fresno Bee)

Hopes for Veterans’ Homes Rest on Feds (by Michael Doyle, McClatchey newspapers)

New Veterans Homes (CalVet website)

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Suggested Reforms:

Housing Issues

The California State Auditor, in his 2009-2010 report on CalVet, suggested that the department could take a few steps to improve its services for veterans. The report said that the CalVet home loan program was not designed to address veterans in need of multifamily or transitional housing.

But it also noted that multiple state laws would have to be changed to provide that assistance. One of the larger stumbling blocks that would need to be addressed was a prohibition against CalVet loans for multifamily housing like duplexes, triplexes or fourplexes because veterans are prevented from renting out unoccupied units.

The CalVet program also prohibits CalVet from repossessing any properties that have more than one unit, limiting its ability to allow public or private organizations from using CalVet properties to serve homeless veterans.

The report also said that state law would need to be clarified, because technical restrictions on bond usage by the department hamstrings the department’s housing efforts.

 

California Department of Veterans Affairs (State Auditor) (pdf)

 

Veterans Homes

Rocky Chavez was appointed undersecretary of veterans affairs by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009 and temporarily took the helm prior to the appointement in 2011 of Peter Gravett. He had a few suggestions in June 2011 for Governor Jerry Brown and his successor about the six veterans homes the state operates and the two whose opening have been delayed.

The state spends more than $200 million a year to care for 1,700 veterans. Chavez said that when, or if, the homes in Fresno and Redding come online, the cost could jump to $500 million for 3,200 veterans.

·     Needs test veterans homes residents, some of whom are well off and don’t need the housing.

·     Privatize the homes, but let the state run them. Chavez said over-staffing is common and that there are currently 1.4 staff members for every patient.

·     Standardize policies and procedures. Some homes have nursing interns do the work that registered nurses do at other homes.

·     Plug all eligible veterans into federal VA health care benefits, which would reduce the state’s financial burden.

·     Don’t spend any new taxpayer money on the homes. Texas veterans homes actually make money.

·     Chavez suggested that younger veterans injured and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan be given priority. Veterans homes have only recently become de facto old folks’ home.

 

New Veterans Secretary Inherits Same Old Problems (by Rick Rogers, North County Times)

 

Interagency Council

In August 2011, Governor Jerry Brown responded to criticism that veterans affairs suffered from a lack of coordination between local, state and federal government by issuing an executive order creating the California Interagency Council on Veterans.

 

The order brings together representatives from more than half a dozen major state agencies, the state Senate and Assembly, the state judiciary, educational institutions, federal partners and external shareholders “to identify and prioritize the needs of California’s veterans, and to coordinate the activities at all levels of government in addressing those needs.”

 

Gov. Brown Creates California Interagency Council on Veterans (Governor Brown press releases)

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Debate:

Should California Do More for Veterans?

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs proudly proclaims that the United States has the “most comprehensive system of assistance for veterans of any nation in the world,” with a benefits system it traces back to the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony in 1636.

In addition to the extensive benefits provided by the federal government that include education, health care and housing, each state has its own complementary system of assistance. These programs at the local, state and federal level have long been some of the most popular functions of government.

But tough economic times, a shifting view of government’s role and other factors have put a spotlight on the benefits provided soldiers returning to civilian life in California.

Governor Jerry Brown’s 2011-12 budget delayed opening veterans homes in Fresno and Redding at a savings of $20.2 million. It cut $7.3 million by reducing support for local assistance to County Veterans Services Offices. It saved another $6.1 million by postponing the opening of the Skilled Nursing Facility in West Los Angeles, and saved $5.6 million through cancellation of federal sharing agreements at the West L.A. Veterans Home and establishing “efficiencies” in the Enterprise Wide Veterans Homes Information System.

These cuts come even as advocates for veterans are asking: shouldn’t we be doing more for veterans, not less?

 

We Need to Do More

An estimated one-third of all homeless adults in the U.S. are veterans and 62% have been diagnosed with substance abuse issues and mental illness.

California has the most homeless vets. They are on the street because of high unemployment in a ravaged economy, a shortage of affordable housing, substance abuse, physical and mental illness, lack of family and social support, and lack of access to health care.

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, 30,000 men and women are expected to leave the military and return to civilian life annually in California.

They obviously need more help and providing it is not only the humanitarian thing to do, it serves all of society to take care of its least fortunate, especially those who have already sacrificed for the greater good.

There is no reason to couch these arguments as being those of “veterans advocates” or “social activists” because they are self-evident. We have long recognized through the establishment of programs like those in the G.I. Bill 60 years ago that we have an obligation to reward all returning soldiers and help those who need it.

They deserve an education if they want it. A job if they need it. Medical assistance if they are ailing. Housing if they are homeless.

 

Information Page about Homeless Veterans (StandDown.org)

History of the VA (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)

Help California’s Veterans Succeed After They Return From Combat (by Judith Broder, Capitol Weekly)

Welcoming Home Warriors (by Toni Reinis, Executive Director New Directions, Inc)

2011-12 Summary of Non-Agency Department (Ebudget) (pdf)

 

California Can’t Do More

California spends more than $200 million a year from its General Fund on veterans. That is in addition to a huge outpouring of support from the federal government. Everyone is thankful for the sacrifices that our soldiers have made for their country, but the state faced a $26 billion deficit in 2011 and can’t pay its bills.

“Veterans’ services is something we should support. The challenge is doing it this year when our budget deficit is so acute,” Democratic state Sen. Christine Kehoe argued during the budget debate in January 2011. Kehoe listed programs, from health care for children to aid for the disabled, that will also see dollars disappear.

“I am not ready to say one program is worth more than the other,” she said.

Sen. Bob Huff of Walnut, the Senate’s leading Republican on budget issues, added, “Veterans are obviously something that everybody has a strong heart for. They risked everything for us. We certainly don’t want to abandon them in their hour of need.

“Having said that, you know there are no easy solutions. . . . We just have to balance in the context of the rest of the budget.”

Some argue that taking care of former military personnel should be a federal responsibility and if anyone should do more, it should be Washington. Do we really want more than one large bureaucracy with overlapping responsibilities grappling with complicated veterans issues?

Others wonder if big government bureaucracies are ever the answer to our problems. Just a quick look at report titles from the California State Auditor's office makes clear the problems with waste and inefficiency inherent in the system.

·     “Investigations of Improper Activities by State Employees: July 2007 Through December 2007”

·     “Department of Veterans Affairs: Weak Management and Poor Internal Controls Have Prevented the Department From Establishing an Effective Cash Collection System”

·     “California Department of Veterans Affairs: Its Life and Disability Insurance Program, Financially Weakened by Past Neglect, Offers Reduced Insurance Benefits to Veterans and Faces an Uncertain Future”

“California Department of Veterans Affairs: Although It Has Begun to Increase Its Outreach Efforts and to Coordinate With Other Entities, It Needs to Improve Its Strategic Planning Process, and Its CalVet Home Loan Program Is Not Designed to Address the Housing Needs of Some Veterans”

Back when government first started providing education, health, housing and other benefits for veterans, there was nowhere else for them to turn. But this country now has a huge social safety net. Is it really necessary or efficient to be duplicating it for a subset of the population?

And perhaps there needs to be a differentiation between types of assistance. It is one thing to provide a reward to those who have disrupted their lives and made sacrifices for the country: a college education, perhaps. Some job training. Maybe even health care.

But much of the assistance provided to veterans is for personal problems that some argue are of their own making. Substance abuse, homelessness and joblessness are challenges that individuals face whether they are ex-soldiers or not. Perhaps people need to accept responsibility for their lives and not rely on the state to take care of them.

 

State Cuts Affect Programs that Aid Veterans (San Diego Union-Tribune editorial)

Reports Related to the Department of Veterans Affairs (California State Auditor)

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Former Directors:

Rocky Chavez, 2011 (interim)

Roger Brautigan, 2009-2011

Thomas Johnson, 2004-2009

Leon Tuttle, 2003-2004

Maurice K. Johannessen, 2002-2003. Shortly after the recall of Democratic Governor Gray Davis, Johannessen was fired by the new boss, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. “Everybody wanted to be the first in line to say to Arnold that the first thing he ought to do is fire” him, said Republican state Senator William “Pete” Knight. Johannessen had angered his fellow Republicans when, as a state senator, he twice voted for budgets presented by Governor Davis. Davis appointed Johannessen to the CalVet post shortly after his election in 2002.

Bruce Thiesen, 2000-2001(was interim, then rejected by Senate)

Tomas Alvarado, 1999-2000. Alvarado quit his post shortly after testimony at his second Senate confirmation hearing alleged that a veterans hospital death caused by poor care had been covered up and that he was, at the least, privvy to the details. It was the second death in two months at the facility.

James R. Ramos, 1999

Lee Bennett, 1998-1999

Jay R. Vargas, 1993-1998

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Founded: 1929
Annual Budget: $368.6 million (Proposed FY 2012-2013)
Employees: 2,250
Official Website: http://www.calvet.ca.gov
California Department of Veterans Affairs
Gravett, Peter
Secretary

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, and raised in San Pedro, California, Peter Gravett was the son of one of the Tuskegee Airmen, the legendary African-American aviators who served in World War II.

Gravett earned an undergraduate degree in criminology from California State University, Long Beach, and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Southern California. He earned executive diplomas from the University of Virginia and from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Gravett is also a graduate of the U.S. Army War College and the FBI National Academy.

Gravett, 69, worked for more than 22 years with the Los Angeles Police Department as a uniformed officer in investigations and in support services. He was awarded the LAPD's Medal of Valor for saving the life of a teenage boy who had been attacked by a mob outside the L.A. Coliseum. Gravett also spent more than 40 years in the U.S. Army and the California National Guard.

While with the Guard, Gravett’s commands included company, battalion and brigade levels. He was an assistant division commander from 1996, when he was promoted to brigadier general, to 1999. Gravett served as commanding general of the 40th Infantry Division from 1999-2002.

He retired as a major general, having become the first African-American to become a division commander in the Guard’s 225-year history.

Gravett was selected by the assistant secretary of defense in 2006 to be the state chair for the Southern California Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) Committee. He served until 2009.

Governor Jerry Brown appointed Gravett, a Republican, to be secretary of CalVet on April 29, 2011. The position requires state Senate confirmation and compensation is $175,000 annually.
 

Secretary (CalVet website)

Brown Names New Veterans Chief (by Aaron Glantz, Bay Citizen Guardian)

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Bookmark and Share
Overview:

The California Department of Veterans Affairs (CDVA) promotes and delivers benefits and services to the state’s veterans and their families. Based upon a humanitarian philosophy that aiding veterans promotes patriotism by rewarding sacrifice and service to country, the department proves aid and assistance for veterans in presenting claims, provides opportunities through direct low-cost loans to acquire farms and homes, and helps the state’s elderly and disabled veterans with rehabilitative, residential and medical care in a home-like environment at the six California Veterans Homes. The department also provides readjustment assistance to returning veterans and their families. Not surprisingly, there is a strong correlation between these policies and state demographics. California has the largest number of veterans of any state in the nation with nearly 2.1 million vets calling the Golden State home. That’s about 9% of the nation’s entire veteran population. The state also has the highest number of homeless veterans in the country with a staggering estimated 50,000 living on the streets. It follows that veterans make up 26% of the state’s homeless population. Furthermore, the state estimates that 62% of homeless veterans have been diagnosed with both substance abuse issues and mental health problems. Additional benefits and services include tuition waivers for college, job placement services, vocational training, assistance with applying for aid from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, burial in a state veterans cemetery and special outreach programs for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

 

Strategic Plan (CalVet website)

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History:

California’s experience with veterans affairs dates back to the late 19th century and the veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic—a fraternal organization made up of veterans from the Civil War and the Mexican War. On April 12, 1881, the Veterans Home Association was incorporated with 11 members to assist in the care of the aging veterans. A year and a half later, the association purchased 910 acres of farmland in the bucolic Napa Valley at Yountville with $17,750 in donated funds. On April 1, 1884, the first Veterans Home of California opened, with the state accepting title to the property and the buildings, and agreeing to provide maintenance and governance of the institution.

As WWI was drawing to a close, California, like many states at the time, wanted to provide some sort of official appreciation for the returning veterans. The standard state response was to provide veterans with a cash bonus. California took a different tact and instead enacted “soldier legislation” to assist the returning GIs. The legislation provided civil service preferences, educational opportunities, breaks on taxes and fees, housing assistance and other forms of state aid.

In 1921, the Legislature established the Veterans Welfare Board to manage the various programs that had been enacted to assist veterans. It also passed the Veterans Farm and Home Purchase Act, which provided low-interest financing for homes and farms.

By 1929, veterans-related issues had grown significantly and the Legislature responded by creating a state agency to be known as the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. With a new world war looming on the horizon, the state established the California State Guard, which became the nucleus of regiments formed in the state. In 1943, the state modified the Veterans Farm and Home Purchase Act to meet the needs of what clearly was going to be an explosive population boom throughout California. The state also created several panels and committees to aid in the development of a workable program for returning veterans, and to coordinate activities with federal, state, local and non-government agencies.

When WWII ended, the structure of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs was overwhelmed by the needs of the state’s burgeoning veterans population. So, in 1946, the state created the California Department of Veteran Affairs to replace DMVA, and the California Veterans Board to replace the Veterans Welfare Board.

In 1991, the CDVA was authorized to expand the Veterans Home program to several other locations. And in 2000, voters approved Proposition 16, which provided $50 million for the home projects. Since then, homes have opened in Barstow, Chula Vista, Lancaster, Ventura and West Los Angeles. Construction recently commenced on facilities in Redding and Fresno.

In 1994, Governor Pete Wilson signed legislation to take the CDVA out from under the State and Consumer Services Agency and then enacted an executive order elevating the department to cabinet-level status.

In 2010, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger launched Operation Welcome Home, an ambitious, first-of-its kind, $20 million program to reach out to every returning veteran to determine their needs and connect them with appropriate services. Addressing the program in his State of the State Address that year, he noted: “California has more returning veterans than any other state, so our state, as well as the federal government, has a special responsibility. . . . We have a fundamental obligation to anyone who has shed or risked blood for this country. . . . So to those men and women, those brave men and women, I say welcome home, welcome home.”

 

2009-2010 Annual Report (CalVet website) (pdf)

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What it Does:

CalVet coordinates with several agencies and boards to deliver a host of benefits and services to veterans and their families. Its core missions are:

·     providing services and advocacy on behalf of veterans before the federal Department of Veterans Affairs

·     providing service and benefits for women and minority and Native American veterans.

·     the administration of state veterans homes that provide a continuum of care for veterans who choose to live in one of the Veterans Homes of California.

·     the administration of a financially strong and economically successful housing program for veterans and their families through the Farm and Home Load Division. 

Following are the main categories of service and benefits provided to veterans and their families. 

Farm and Home Loans to Veterans: The CalVet Home Loan Program provides veterans, meeting specified requirements, loans for new or existing single-family dwellings, which include condominiums, planned unit developments, units in cooperative housing developments, and mobile homes permanently affixed to land or in rental parks, and for farms. Construction and rehabilitation loans are also available.

CalVet also has a Home Improvement Loan Program to assist active contract holders or homeowners who own their homes free of debt in securing certain home maintenance and renovation improvements. 

Veterans Claims and Rights: The Veterans Services Division provides service and assistance to California's veterans, dependents and survivors. Programs administered consist of: Operation Welcome Home, Veterans Dependents Educational Assistance Program, County Veterans Service Office Program, Medi-Cal Cost Avoidance Program, Claims and Rights Representation, Veteran Cemeteries, and the Veterans License Plate Program. 

Education: The dependent child, spouse or unmarried surviving spouses of a disabled or deceased veteran may be entitled to tuition and fee waiver benefits at any campus of the California State University system, University of California or a California Community College. To be eligible, students must:

·     have a parent who is a disabled vet (0% or more disabled); or

·     have a spouse who is service-connected (S/C) deceased or rated 100% S/C disabled.

·     be a child earning less than $11,369 a year. There is no income limit for a spouse or child of S/C deceased or 100% S/C veterans.

·     attend a California Community College, California State University or a University of California school.

·     provide proof of the student’s relationship to the veteran—such as a copy of a birth or marriage certificate.

Complete eligibility requirements and assistance in applying can be obtained from a local County Veterans Office or a school’s veterans office.
 

California Veterans Education Opportunities Partnership (University of California)

Troops to College program (CalState University)
 

Care of Sick and Disabled Veterans: The six Veterans Homes of California are a system of live-in, residential care facilities offering a comprehensive plan of medical, dental, pharmacy, rehabilitation services and social activities within a home-like, small community environment. Residents engage in a wide range of activities including social events, dances, patriotic programs, volunteer activities, arts and crafts, computer access, shopping trips and other off-site activities. Residents live in an atmosphere of dignity and respect—a sense of a real “home” for each resident veteran.

The facilities range in size from 60 residents on a 20-acre site to more than 1,000 residents on 500 acres. The homes are located in: Yountville, Barstow, Chula Vista, Lancaster, Ventura and West Los Angeles. When the last two homes are completed in Redding and Fresno, the system will house approximately 3,000 veterans.

To be eligible for admission, veterans must be 62 and older and discharged from active military service under honorable conditions. The age requirement is waived for disabled or homeless veterans needing long-term care.

The Veterans Home of Yountville, which opened in 1884, is the largest veterans home in the United States. It houses 1,100 vets in the rolling hills of Napa Valley with on-grounds facilities that include a 1,200-seat theater, a nine-hole golf course, ballpark, bowling alley, swimming pool, auto hobby shop, 35,000-volume library and a base exchange branch store.

Farm and Home Loans to National Guard Members: The California National Guard Members Farm and Home Purchase Act of 1978 authorized the Military Department to sell revenue bonds to provide low-interest loans to National Guard members for the purchase of farms and homes. The loan provisions of this program are similar to those of the CalVet Loan Program. Responsibility for administering this program was transferred to the Department of Veterans Affairs effective January 1, 1997.

Veterans Memorials: This program is responsible for the beautification and enhancement of the California Mexican American Veterans Memorial on state grounds through private contributions. The money in the fund is continuously appropriated, without regard to fiscal year.

This program also supports the Veterans Registry, which is part of the California Veterans Memorial. The provided contributions help to defray the costs of data entry and system management for the Registry and the reasonable costs that are incurred by the Department for administering the fund.

Although there are many boards and committees that interact with the CDVA, there include:

The California Veterans Board: This is a seven-member board appointed by the governor and subject to state Senate confirmation. The panel serves as an advocate for veterans, identifying needs and working to ensure and enhance the rights and benefits of veterans and their families. It also works closely with the CDVA to monitor and weigh in on department policies, hears appeals of vets who have been denied benefits, and prepares reports for the Legislature noting the department’s activities and accomplishments, as well as needs.

Bond Finance Committees: The Veterans’ Finance Committee of 1943 authorizes the issuance of Veterans General Obligation Bonds and Commercial Paper Notes, the issuance of which is used to fund home loans for veterans across the state and/or to economically refund outstanding bonds at a lower borrowing cost. The Veteran’s Debenture Finance Committee authorizes the issuance of Department of Veterans Affairs of the State of California Home Purchase Revenue Bonds, which are used to fund home loans. The Veterans’ Home Finance Committee authorizes General Obligation Bonds for designing and constructing homes and completing renovations when needed.

Mexican American Veterans Memorial Committee: Created by the Legislature to enhance the existing California Mexican American Veterans’ Memorial in Sacramento and to secure private funding to complete the project. 

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Where Does the Money Go:

While most California agency budgets as presented through the state’s Ebudget system are limited in their transparency, the CalVet budget is downright opaque. The largest listed 2011-12 revenue source is the state’s General Fund at about 64%.

The second largest source of funding listed on the website, the Veterans’ Farm and Home Building Fund of 1943 (around 34%), is actually a repository for proceeds from various bonds used to fund veterans’ home purchases. The Federal Trust Fund, according to Ebudget, provided 1.1%, or around $4.3 million.

But according the California State Auditor, CalVet receives a substantial amount of federal funds. The auditor’s revenue breakdown for six years (through fiscal year 2008-09) showed a federal contribution of $311 million through seven different programs, or about $50 million a year on average, for support of the department’s veterans homes. The state General Fund ponied up $542 million for the homes during the same period.

More generally, the auditor broke down the departments expenditures during the six-year period into three basic categories: Veterans Homes Division (55.1%), CalVets Home Loan Program (42.7%) and Veterans Services Division (2.2%).

According to Ebudget, a little more than 62% of the CDVA’s budget as of 2011-12 goes toward the care of sick and disabled veterans at the Veterans Homes of California. Most of the rest pays for administration of funding of farm and home loans. The CalVet Home Loan Program, in addition to providing loans for new or existing family dwellings, also offers a home improvement loan program.

An additional $9.2 million goes toward Veterans Claims and Rights, a catchall for various services that include Operation Welcome Home, the Veterans License Plate Program, assistance for dependents’ education, Medi-Cal avoidance efforts and burials.

About $11,000 goes for the administration of the program to provide low-interest home and farm loans to members of the National Guard, and $61,000 goes to the Veterans Memorial Fund, which is responsible for enhancing the California Mexican American Veterans Memorial through private contributions. It also supports the Veterans Registry.

 

According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, the following is a list of the Top Ten service contractors for 2012. The expenditures can stretch over a length of years, and the duration of each is included.

Contractor
Amount
Duration
Securitas Security Services USA                     
$5,398,500.00
7/1/08 - 12/31/12
United States Department of Veterans Affairs  
$3,734,477.00
7/1/09 - 6/30/14
Morrison Senior Dining
$3,646,885.00
3/1/12 - 12/31/13
Rehab Practice Management LLC                   
$3,048,752.00
7/1/12 - 6/30/15
Queen of the Valley Medical Center             
$2,250,000.00
7/1/12 - 6/30/15
Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center                  
$1,290,000.00
7/1/12 - 6/30/15
Lincoln Training Center             
$817,175.76
3/1/12 - 2/29/14
U.S. Foodservice                          
$661,350.49
 
Panoramic Software, Inc.                                  
$656,800.00
5/1/11 - 4/30/14
Prison Industry Authority 
$527,252.08
7/1/10 - 6/30/13

 

3-Year Budget (pdf)

California Department of Veterans Affairs (State Auditor) (pdf)

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Controversies:

CalVet Leader Quits Under Fire

Since it opened in February 1996, the Veterans Home of Barstow has stood out from the other state facilities for its share of patient deaths and illnesses. The home has 400 beds and provides domiciliary (independent living), intermediate care and skilled nursing care. Acute hospital care is provided at either the Jerry L. Pettis Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Loma Linda (for vets eligible for VA care) or at the Barstow Community Hospital.

On May 15, 2000, CDVA Secretary Tomas Alvarado resigned three hours after a doctor who tried to save a dying 76-year-old WWII veteran claimed that his superiors pressured him to change his report to say the man died of a heart attack, rather than choking. The doctor, Liem C. Vu, refused to change the report and was fired for alleged mistreatment of other patients at the home.

Alvarado testified at a state Senate inquiry that he ordered that Vu be put on administrative leave, and denied that he ordered him terminated. Vu’s allegation that he was ordered to doctor the report on the Feb. 11, 2000, death of Paul Stevens, a retired infantry sergeant, came up at Alvarado’s second confirmation hearing before the Senate Rules Committee.

Alvarado appeared to blame subordinates, angering Democratic Senate President Pro Tem John L. Burton, who accused Alvarado of trying to keep his Cabinet-level job. Alvarado had been accused earlier of sexual harassment of female employees and had no support on the committee for confirmation. Immediately after the committee adjourned without voting, Alvarado went to visit with Gov. Gray Davis, and then submitted his letter of resignation two hours later (he had been serving on an interim basis).

This incident came on the heels of another death at the facility that resulted in a $95,000 fine just two months before the death of Paul Stevens. The February 2000 fine was related to the death two months earlier of a WWII combat hero who was given conflicting medications for a heart condition. State health officials determined that his doctors failed to recognize that he was worsening, until it was too late.

Billy D. McGowen, 78, died Dec. 4 of heart failure after a toxic interaction of two high-powered medications. Yet only five months earlier, in June 1999, the troubled Barstow facility was fined $64,499 in the deaths of one veteran who choked on broccoli, and another whose diabetes was not properly monitored for weeks.

McGowen, according to his son, had been awarded two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart during his service in Europe. According to a state health report, he had returned to the Barstow facility on Nov. 4 from a local hospital, where he had been sent for an irregular heartbeat. A doctor at the hospital had prescribed amiodarone for his condition. Back at the Veterans Home, a staff physician added the drug digoxin to his other medications.

The state report noted that the digoxin and amiodarone cause a toxic reaction. Over the next few weeks, McGowen became extremely weak and there was a dramatic drop in his blood pressure. On Dec. 4, he was taken to the emergency room at a Barstow medical center and died within an hour. Cause of death was listed as heart failure due to the toxicity of his medications.

The controversies were of great embarrassment to Governor Gray Davis, an Army veteran who had proclaimed himself as a “best friend” of California veterans. In December, the governor appointed Republican state Senator Maurice K. Johannessen as secretary of CDVA with orders to see to it that the California Veterans Homes met world-class medical standards. . . . Johannessen was later rejected by the state Senate over unrelated political infighting.

 

State Veterans Affairs Chief Quits Amid Turmoil (by Carl Ingram, Los Angeles Times)

Barstow Veterans Home Fined $95,000 Over Death (by Carl Ingram, Los Angeles Times)

 

State Auditor Critical of CalVet

A report released by the California State Auditor in October 2009 highlighted a number of problems facing CalVet. The audit focused on six counties, including Los Angeles County, and concluded that veterans received fewer benefits than those in other states and didn’t have as much information about what was available.

California, by virtue of being the most populous state in the nation, has the most veterans. But only 12.86% received any form of compensation and pension benefits compared to the national average of 13.94%. Florida and Texas, the two states with the next largest veteran populations, checked in at 14.88% and 16.73%, respectively.

Department officials attributed some of the disparity to the larger number of veteran service staff members in those states. Texas had one for every 5,684 veterans, Florida one for every 8,407 and California one for every 9,577.

But the audit also pointed to a lack of coordination between the department and county veteran service officials in helping ex-soldiers apply for benefits. It also said the department did not have a strong outreach program. In particular, it said there were few direct services to veterans outside of its veteran homes and CalVet Home Loan Program. In particular, the audit said the department provides only minimal direct assistance for veterans facing issues such as homelessness and mental illness.

The report said the department shouldn’t just rely on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the local County Veterans Service Officer programs (CVSOs) and nonprofit organizations to provide such services.

The audit noted a growing housing problem among veterans and said the CDVA needed to address it. It said there was a need for more homeless shelters, transitional housing with services and multifamily rental housing.

It recommended that coordination between the federal, state and local governments must improve.

 

Audit Reveals CA Veterans Fail to Get Their Share of Benefits (by Rick Rogers, Defense Tracker)

California Department of Veterans Affairs (State Auditor) (pdf)

 

Two Veterans Homes Defunded

Ground was broken with great hoopla in mid-2010 on two new group homes for veterans in Fresno and Redding. One year later, both projects were put on hold when the state budget defunded them to help shrink a huge deficit.

The budget cuts were expected to delay opening of the facilities for at least a year.

State commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Department Bobby Price was not happy. “The primary budget bill would require an intolerable year-long delay to 150-bed veterans' homes being constructed in Redding and Fresno, denying necessary services to those citizens who have spent their lives protecting our nation,” he said.

Assemblymember Linda Halderman called it a “betrayal” and vowed to have the $12.1 million restored. “The state should honor the promise it made to our veterans a year ago by immediately restoring funding,” she said.

Both homes were partially funded by grants from the federal government and supporters were hoping that lawmakers in Washington would pressure the state to change its decision.

 

Assemblymember Halderman Calls De-Funding of Fresno Veterans’ Home “a Betrayal" (Assemblymember Linda Halderman)

Veterans Homes in Fresno and Redding Get Delayed in Last-Minute Budget Vote (by Jim Boren, Fresno Bee)

Hopes for Veterans’ Homes Rest on Feds (by Michael Doyle, McClatchey newspapers)

New Veterans Homes (CalVet website)

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Suggested Reforms:

Housing Issues

The California State Auditor, in his 2009-2010 report on CalVet, suggested that the department could take a few steps to improve its services for veterans. The report said that the CalVet home loan program was not designed to address veterans in need of multifamily or transitional housing.

But it also noted that multiple state laws would have to be changed to provide that assistance. One of the larger stumbling blocks that would need to be addressed was a prohibition against CalVet loans for multifamily housing like duplexes, triplexes or fourplexes because veterans are prevented from renting out unoccupied units.

The CalVet program also prohibits CalVet from repossessing any properties that have more than one unit, limiting its ability to allow public or private organizations from using CalVet properties to serve homeless veterans.

The report also said that state law would need to be clarified, because technical restrictions on bond usage by the department hamstrings the department’s housing efforts.

 

California Department of Veterans Affairs (State Auditor) (pdf)

 

Veterans Homes

Rocky Chavez was appointed undersecretary of veterans affairs by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009 and temporarily took the helm prior to the appointement in 2011 of Peter Gravett. He had a few suggestions in June 2011 for Governor Jerry Brown and his successor about the six veterans homes the state operates and the two whose opening have been delayed.

The state spends more than $200 million a year to care for 1,700 veterans. Chavez said that when, or if, the homes in Fresno and Redding come online, the cost could jump to $500 million for 3,200 veterans.

·     Needs test veterans homes residents, some of whom are well off and don’t need the housing.

·     Privatize the homes, but let the state run them. Chavez said over-staffing is common and that there are currently 1.4 staff members for every patient.

·     Standardize policies and procedures. Some homes have nursing interns do the work that registered nurses do at other homes.

·     Plug all eligible veterans into federal VA health care benefits, which would reduce the state’s financial burden.

·     Don’t spend any new taxpayer money on the homes. Texas veterans homes actually make money.

·     Chavez suggested that younger veterans injured and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan be given priority. Veterans homes have only recently become de facto old folks’ home.

 

New Veterans Secretary Inherits Same Old Problems (by Rick Rogers, North County Times)

 

Interagency Council

In August 2011, Governor Jerry Brown responded to criticism that veterans affairs suffered from a lack of coordination between local, state and federal government by issuing an executive order creating the California Interagency Council on Veterans.

 

The order brings together representatives from more than half a dozen major state agencies, the state Senate and Assembly, the state judiciary, educational institutions, federal partners and external shareholders “to identify and prioritize the needs of California’s veterans, and to coordinate the activities at all levels of government in addressing those needs.”

 

Gov. Brown Creates California Interagency Council on Veterans (Governor Brown press releases)

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Debate:

Should California Do More for Veterans?

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs proudly proclaims that the United States has the “most comprehensive system of assistance for veterans of any nation in the world,” with a benefits system it traces back to the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony in 1636.

In addition to the extensive benefits provided by the federal government that include education, health care and housing, each state has its own complementary system of assistance. These programs at the local, state and federal level have long been some of the most popular functions of government.

But tough economic times, a shifting view of government’s role and other factors have put a spotlight on the benefits provided soldiers returning to civilian life in California.

Governor Jerry Brown’s 2011-12 budget delayed opening veterans homes in Fresno and Redding at a savings of $20.2 million. It cut $7.3 million by reducing support for local assistance to County Veterans Services Offices. It saved another $6.1 million by postponing the opening of the Skilled Nursing Facility in West Los Angeles, and saved $5.6 million through cancellation of federal sharing agreements at the West L.A. Veterans Home and establishing “efficiencies” in the Enterprise Wide Veterans Homes Information System.

These cuts come even as advocates for veterans are asking: shouldn’t we be doing more for veterans, not less?

 

We Need to Do More

An estimated one-third of all homeless adults in the U.S. are veterans and 62% have been diagnosed with substance abuse issues and mental illness.

California has the most homeless vets. They are on the street because of high unemployment in a ravaged economy, a shortage of affordable housing, substance abuse, physical and mental illness, lack of family and social support, and lack of access to health care.

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, 30,000 men and women are expected to leave the military and return to civilian life annually in California.

They obviously need more help and providing it is not only the humanitarian thing to do, it serves all of society to take care of its least fortunate, especially those who have already sacrificed for the greater good.

There is no reason to couch these arguments as being those of “veterans advocates” or “social activists” because they are self-evident. We have long recognized through the establishment of programs like those in the G.I. Bill 60 years ago that we have an obligation to reward all returning soldiers and help those who need it.

They deserve an education if they want it. A job if they need it. Medical assistance if they are ailing. Housing if they are homeless.

 

Information Page about Homeless Veterans (StandDown.org)

History of the VA (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)

Help California’s Veterans Succeed After They Return From Combat (by Judith Broder, Capitol Weekly)

Welcoming Home Warriors (by Toni Reinis, Executive Director New Directions, Inc)

2011-12 Summary of Non-Agency Department (Ebudget) (pdf)

 

California Can’t Do More

California spends more than $200 million a year from its General Fund on veterans. That is in addition to a huge outpouring of support from the federal government. Everyone is thankful for the sacrifices that our soldiers have made for their country, but the state faced a $26 billion deficit in 2011 and can’t pay its bills.

“Veterans’ services is something we should support. The challenge is doing it this year when our budget deficit is so acute,” Democratic state Sen. Christine Kehoe argued during the budget debate in January 2011. Kehoe listed programs, from health care for children to aid for the disabled, that will also see dollars disappear.

“I am not ready to say one program is worth more than the other,” she said.

Sen. Bob Huff of Walnut, the Senate’s leading Republican on budget issues, added, “Veterans are obviously something that everybody has a strong heart for. They risked everything for us. We certainly don’t want to abandon them in their hour of need.

“Having said that, you know there are no easy solutions. . . . We just have to balance in the context of the rest of the budget.”

Some argue that taking care of former military personnel should be a federal responsibility and if anyone should do more, it should be Washington. Do we really want more than one large bureaucracy with overlapping responsibilities grappling with complicated veterans issues?

Others wonder if big government bureaucracies are ever the answer to our problems. Just a quick look at report titles from the California State Auditor's office makes clear the problems with waste and inefficiency inherent in the system.

·     “Investigations of Improper Activities by State Employees: July 2007 Through December 2007”

·     “Department of Veterans Affairs: Weak Management and Poor Internal Controls Have Prevented the Department From Establishing an Effective Cash Collection System”

·     “California Department of Veterans Affairs: Its Life and Disability Insurance Program, Financially Weakened by Past Neglect, Offers Reduced Insurance Benefits to Veterans and Faces an Uncertain Future”

“California Department of Veterans Affairs: Although It Has Begun to Increase Its Outreach Efforts and to Coordinate With Other Entities, It Needs to Improve Its Strategic Planning Process, and Its CalVet Home Loan Program Is Not Designed to Address the Housing Needs of Some Veterans”

Back when government first started providing education, health, housing and other benefits for veterans, there was nowhere else for them to turn. But this country now has a huge social safety net. Is it really necessary or efficient to be duplicating it for a subset of the population?

And perhaps there needs to be a differentiation between types of assistance. It is one thing to provide a reward to those who have disrupted their lives and made sacrifices for the country: a college education, perhaps. Some job training. Maybe even health care.

But much of the assistance provided to veterans is for personal problems that some argue are of their own making. Substance abuse, homelessness and joblessness are challenges that individuals face whether they are ex-soldiers or not. Perhaps people need to accept responsibility for their lives and not rely on the state to take care of them.

 

State Cuts Affect Programs that Aid Veterans (San Diego Union-Tribune editorial)

Reports Related to the Department of Veterans Affairs (California State Auditor)

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Former Directors:

Rocky Chavez, 2011 (interim)

Roger Brautigan, 2009-2011

Thomas Johnson, 2004-2009

Leon Tuttle, 2003-2004

Maurice K. Johannessen, 2002-2003. Shortly after the recall of Democratic Governor Gray Davis, Johannessen was fired by the new boss, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. “Everybody wanted to be the first in line to say to Arnold that the first thing he ought to do is fire” him, said Republican state Senator William “Pete” Knight. Johannessen had angered his fellow Republicans when, as a state senator, he twice voted for budgets presented by Governor Davis. Davis appointed Johannessen to the CalVet post shortly after his election in 2002.

Bruce Thiesen, 2000-2001(was interim, then rejected by Senate)

Tomas Alvarado, 1999-2000. Alvarado quit his post shortly after testimony at his second Senate confirmation hearing alleged that a veterans hospital death caused by poor care had been covered up and that he was, at the least, privvy to the details. It was the second death in two months at the facility.

James R. Ramos, 1999

Lee Bennett, 1998-1999

Jay R. Vargas, 1993-1998

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Founded: 1929
Annual Budget: $368.6 million (Proposed FY 2012-2013)
Employees: 2,250
Official Website: http://www.calvet.ca.gov
California Department of Veterans Affairs
Gravett, Peter
Secretary

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, and raised in San Pedro, California, Peter Gravett was the son of one of the Tuskegee Airmen, the legendary African-American aviators who served in World War II.

Gravett earned an undergraduate degree in criminology from California State University, Long Beach, and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Southern California. He earned executive diplomas from the University of Virginia and from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Gravett is also a graduate of the U.S. Army War College and the FBI National Academy.

Gravett, 69, worked for more than 22 years with the Los Angeles Police Department as a uniformed officer in investigations and in support services. He was awarded the LAPD's Medal of Valor for saving the life of a teenage boy who had been attacked by a mob outside the L.A. Coliseum. Gravett also spent more than 40 years in the U.S. Army and the California National Guard.

While with the Guard, Gravett’s commands included company, battalion and brigade levels. He was an assistant division commander from 1996, when he was promoted to brigadier general, to 1999. Gravett served as commanding general of the 40th Infantry Division from 1999-2002.

He retired as a major general, having become the first African-American to become a division commander in the Guard’s 225-year history.

Gravett was selected by the assistant secretary of defense in 2006 to be the state chair for the Southern California Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) Committee. He served until 2009.

Governor Jerry Brown appointed Gravett, a Republican, to be secretary of CalVet on April 29, 2011. The position requires state Senate confirmation and compensation is $175,000 annually.
 

Secretary (CalVet website)

Brown Names New Veterans Chief (by Aaron Glantz, Bay Citizen Guardian)

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