COMMENTARY- Veterans Fear Loss of VA Property and Healthcare Facilities

Second is what can only be politely termed dissembling by both VA and developer representatives in partially stating the terms of the leases. Representatives have repeatedly said, both in meetings and in writing, that all assets involved will revert back to the VA at the end of the lease.

What they never say, and was only discovered when lease documents were obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, is what can happen during the term of the leases before they expire. Per the VA's own Asset Management Plan (AMP), the Dir. of VA can, at their discretion, change the terms of the leases and even transfer leased assets to the lease holder at any time during the life of the lease. Thus, the leases are 100% changeable and fungible, creating the distinct likelihood that VA property will be transferred to the developers involved and lost for Veterans' use.

As a note, as far as can be determined the developers behind this project will not have to pay out-of-pocket for buildings or land; they intend to obtain government funding. This, combined with the fact that all leased land and buildings can be transferred to the developers during the lease raises the question as to whether they (developers) have their eye on the entire 160 acres of Sepulveda VA extremely valuable property.

Finally, Veterans are concerned that the developers plan to use public HUD (Housing and Urban Development) funding. Use of such public funding brings with it the requirement that non- Veterans must be allowed; Veterans will be given "preference" but, because of mandated non-discrimination in use of public funds, non-Veterans must be allowed as well. Representatives from the involved businesses have repeatedly said in effect "trust us" when discussing the "Veterans preference" issue. This rings truly hollow in the ears of Veterans who have heard this all too many times before.

Recently, the City of Los Angeles Zoning Commission denied a request for a zoning variance submitted by the developers involved with the plan at Sepulveda VA. The basis for denial was that the land in question was federal property, zoned PF-1, and the City had no standing in zoning such property. This is but a short reprieve in the entire misguided process involving possible development and loss of Sepulveda VA Veterans' property.

What do Veterans and others want regarding Sepulveda VA plans? For starters, Veterans want VA property intended for a Veterans hospital to remain in VA hands and used for Veterans only. They also want existing buildings renovated and returned to Veterans' healthcare services.

Sepulveda VA was established on land donated specifically to the VA for use as a Veterans' hospital.

Built in 1952 as a psychiatric facility (reason for its pastoral landscaping), Sepulveda later took over from the older Birmingham VA facility (now Birmingham HS) as one of two VA hospitals in the San Fernando Valley. The Sylmar VA was the other site, but was destroyed in the 1971 earthquake, making Sepulveda the sole inpatient VA facility serving the 150,000 Veterans from as far north as Santa Maria, both San Fernando and Antelope Valleys to the Kern County line and beyond.

Sepulveda was then damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and the hospital building was demolished.

After the 1994 earthquake, VA systematically began downsizing patient care facilities at Sepulveda, transferring more and more of its more in-depth outpatient care resources over the hill to W. Los Angles. As Veterans saw the ever-reducing levels of care at Sepulveda VA, they naturally began reducing their demand for care - care that was no longer there. In what can be seen as the proverbial "selffulfilling prophecy," VA officials then used that reduced level of demand as reason to reduce care at Sepulveda VA even further.

Today, Sepulveda hosts only basic outpatient facilities and a long-term nursing care unit, requiring that Veterans seeking higher level care travel the added distance to WLA. Some Veterans must spend an entire day traveling and then waiting for care, either at Sepulveda or WLA VAs.

With the advancement of the Viet Nam era "baby boomer" Veterans into retirement age, and with a long war still being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan which has generated literally hundreds of thousands of Veterans qualified for VA healthcare, VA administration needs to step up to the plate and reestablish Sepulveda VA as an in-depth Veterans healthcare facility. Build it and they will come. Build it.

Lawrence Van Kuran has lived in the San Fernando Valley for 61 years and his family has lived in Southern California for three generations. He served in the US Army from 1965-68 and was in Viet Nam in 1966-67 (Combat Infantry rifle Sqd Ldr). He is an American Legion member and has been Past Cmdr Woodland Hills Post 826, Past Cmdr 20th District and Past Vice Cmdr 6th area.

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