REAL HOT PROPERTY
Standoff on Soldiers’ Soil
Out of 26 million veterans nationwide, 2.3 million live in California making the West LA VA one of the most important veteran centers in the United States. There are more veterans living within fifty miles of the facility than in 42 other states combined according to the California Department of Veterans Affairs. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Agency recently estimated that of the 82,291 homeless in the county, 15,420 of them are homeless vets. The VA estimates that its West LA staff has served 60,000 homeless veterans over the past 10 years.
This prime real estate is an asset to the beleaguered VA, which is in deep trouble financially in part due to the cost of caring for the scores of wounded and maimed returning from Iraq. As of the end of March, over 17,400 American soldiers had been wounded in the war. The Army’s Surgeon General estimates that thirty percent of troops returning from Iraq have developed stress-related illnesses including anxiety, anger, depression, nightmares and concentration problems.
More than 360,000 soldiers have already returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the American Legion, and over 86,000 have sought health care from the VA. The number of VA-treated vets rose by 5.2 percent in 2005, an increase of 3.2 percent over the department’s original projection. Currently, the average annual cost for a single veteran’s health care in the VA system is approximately $5,000 a year.
After repeatedly assuring Congress that the VA was on sound footing, the White House had to ask for an additional $2 billion to cover the VA last July 14, this after asking for $975 million just two weeks prior. The requests for increased funding resulted from the VA’s underestimation of the number of vets seeking health care as well as the escalating costs of health care and long-term treatment.
Ultimately, the 2006 President’s budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs provided approximately $70.8 billion for veterans’ benefits and services. Despite veteran groups’ criticism of the new budget, they were thankful that they beat back two Bush Administration proposals that would have charged veterans joining the health care system a $250 enrollment fee and would have increased prescription co-payments from $7 to $15.
The Bush Administration’s CARES master plan is supposed to help the VA face the challenges of escalating health care costs, a constrained budget and a burgeoning population of vets returning home. “The May 2004 Secretary’s CARES Decision Document will serve as VA’s road map for bringing VA’s healthcare system’s facilities in line with the needs of 21st century veterans,” read a VA document explaining the plan early last summer. “The CARES Decision resulted from a multi-stage, long-term effort and identified 18 sites for additional analysis and studies. These studies will include recommendations to VA regarding the optimal approach to provide current and projected veterans with equal or better healthcare than is currently provided, in terms of access, quality and cost effectiveness, while maximizing any potential reuse / redevelopment of all or portions of the current real property.”