The off-campus tent city of the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Medical Center just off Highway 405 looked more like a military camp than a makeshift shanty town raised by tramps. The tents were lined with military precision and each sported a prominent American flag.
The impressive sight was a mixture of pride and tragedy. Known as “Veterans Row”, the site housed dozens of people who have served in the US military in every conflict from Vietnam to Afghanistan and now, without uniforms, they live on the streets of the town they once defended.
“We are not harming anyone here,” Vietnam veteran Deavin Sesson told KTLA-TV. “Let’s clean up our messes, [and] let’s clean up our own garbage. “
Although exact numbers are difficult to trace, most officials say around 40,000 U.S. Army veterans are without permanent, safe shelter on an average night. Speaking to the National Press Club on Tuesday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough condemned the “veteran homeless” as an English language phrase that has no right to exist.
But American military veterans have not been spared a growing accessibility and availability crisis that has left Los Angeles, the District of Columbia and other locations across the country struggling with increasing numbers of homelessness.
“This appears to be a problem in many cities,” said Mr. McDonough She said.
Veterans Affairs Department officials working with local agencies found more permanent housing for the residents of “Veterans Row” by the end of October. The VA secretary said the next step is to tackle the biggest problem of homeless veterans in Los Angeles and then spread the message nationwide.
“We are prioritizing this across the country. We are building momentum in Los Angeles to show the country that this is a very solvable problem. ” Hey She said.
The matter became a first challenge for Mr. McDonough, who became veterans affairs secretary in February 2021. Hey he was a top White House adviser in the Obama administration and is one of the few in the VA office who has never served in the military.
“We now rely on a very small percentage of our population to fight for the rest of us,” Hey She said.
Bridge the gap
With Veterans Day this week, officials say they are looking for any opportunity to bridge the gap between veterans and the vast majority of the population who have never served in uniform. leave the veterans isolated and detached, mr. McDonough She said.
“It is not for the veterans to break down that barrier. It is up to all of us, especially those who are not veterinarians ” Hey She said. “It can be something as simple as reaching out to the veterans in their lives and helping out.”
Mr McDonough On Tuesday he acknowledged the recent death of former Senator Max Cleland, the Georgia Democrat who was a VA administrator under President Carter before he became a cabinet-level position. A disabled Army veteran of the Vietnam War, he is credited with making the VA more responsive.
The rapid withdrawal of the Biden administration from Afghanistan after 20 years, which resulted in the collapse of the US-aligned Afghan government and army, affected the mental health of some veterans, Mr. McDonough he told NBC News. With the military representing an ever smaller proportion of the overall US population, many Afghanistan Veterans have served multiple tours in a country that is now ruled by the rebel movement of the Taliban who fought.
“If you think about the crisis we are facing, out of the summer in Afghanistan, images from Afghanistan, the stories of Afghanistan, we have seen an increase in concern from our veterans, ” McDonough said, according to NBC. “Those vets seek and receive treatment in many different ways.”
The pandemic was no less devastating for the VA than it was for the rest of the country. Staff and employees were “nothing but heroic” as they battled COVID-19. More than 4 million people have been vaccinated in VA hospitals. Overtime shifts were common for employees who risked their lives to save the lives of veterans, Mr. McDonough She said.
“We are now providing more care, more services and more benefits to veterans than ever before,” Hey She said. “We will continue to do better for the veterans.”
The VA was the first federal agency to require vaccination of staff for COVID-19. While over 90% of the agency’s healthcare workers received the injection, Mr. McDonough said, it is clear that some employees will ask for religious exemptions. The agency will not question the legitimacy of the individual application, but applicants will face a high limit for acceptance, Hey She said.
“We may have so many people who have applied for a religious exemption that we cannot provide care safely,” said Mr. McDonough She said. “We reserve the right to deny religious exemption.”
Patients will not be refused medical treatment if they have not received the COVID-19 vaccination, but VA employees who refuse the vaccine could find themselves out of work. Hey She said.
“The whole process could take up to three months”, Hey he said, “but the aim of the disciplinary process is not to fire people. The goal is to vaccinate people. “
Assisting veterans exposed to toxins on the battlefield is also one of the VA’s primary missions. Mr McDonough he said the agency has given out millions of dollars to veterans and paid out claims for exposure to toxic substances from Gulf War veterans. Veterans have waited too long for support, Hey She said.
“This is only the beginning, not the end of these efforts,” said Mr. McDonough She said.