In 1888 John P. Jones and Arcadia B. de Baker signed a deed donating 300 Acres of West Los Angeles land to be used by the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (the precursor to the Department of Veterans Affairs) as their Pacific branch home. Over the next 127 years, the property lost it's original focus and suffered at the hands of ineffectual government authorities who let the facility fall into disrepair and conniving interlopers from a host of organizations including a major university, an elite parochial school, and even other government agencies who wrangled large parcels for their own use (and nothing to do with veterans healthcare or well-being).
But in January 2015, VA Secretary Bob McDonald signed a settlement agreement in a class action lawsuit (Valentini v Shinseki) regarding encroachment on the campus of the facility. The agreement established a nonprofit, Vets Advocacy, to serve as a partner in the West LA VA master planning process. As the first step of the process, Vets Advocacy is looking for the veteran community to voice how they'd like to see VA services provided.
"This confluence of events is unique and something that must not be missed," said Vets Advocacy's Dr. Jon Sherin, who ran mental health services for the West Los Angeles VA hospital. "And this is more than a local issue in Los Angeles. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for our country to get it right."
Sherin calls the VA "a sacred agency" and says while the neglect and mismanagement over the years are real, he wants to focus on the possibilities and hope. "The lawsuit is settled," he said. "We have a VA secretary who's a change agent and very customer oriented. Now we need the vet's voice to drive the outcome."
Vets Advocacy has created a website, www.vatherightway.org, where veterans can find out about the history of the West LA VA campus, see the schedule of local town hall events, watch video testimonials of other vets, and -- most importantly -- take the survey regarding how the campus should be modified to better serve patients and the veteran community at large.
The campus is home to a chapel that has fallen into disrepair, an executive 9-hole golf course that could use a face lift, numerous buildings that need to be rehab'd, and even a theater where rock legends The Doors once performed. All of this spell potential to Sherin who envisions veterans employment workshops (including those catering to the career fields surrounding the entertainment industry), top-notch recreation facilities, and, of course, state-of-the-art health resources.
"The masterplan is an important first step in a much longer process to realize a 21st Century VA campus," Sherin said. "With veteran participation in taking the survey and attending town hall events around LA we'll be able to ensure we're headed in the right direction."