President Calvin Coolidge is justifiably remembered for little; however, in his acceptance speech for the presidential nomination, he memorably said, “The nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten.”
Remembering the service and sacrifice of veterans, 388 acres in West Los Angeles were given to veterans. Through the years, the city of Los Angeles grew, UCLA was founded, and surrounding cities bordered the previously spacious area.
Today, California is home to 1.8 million veterans and 24 percent of all homeless veterans in the U.S. These defenders should not be forgotten.
The Veterans Administration has recently proposed a draft master plan for enlarging and modernizing the West Los Angeles VA facility. Last week Vets Advocacy organized a meeting for leaders of Southern California veterans’ groups to discuss and present ideas about the draft plan. Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and now a strong advocate for better providing for homeless veterans spoke to the group.
There is strong support for increased and improved medical facilities including both in and out patient facilities. These facilities should include some non-traditional, out-of-the-box projects.
For example, some veterans with PTSD are simply not comfortable living in traditional residential apartments or houses. Several VA centers in other states, such as Arizona, have built areas where veterans can pitch tents and live outside of brick and mortar buildings. Included in these areas would be central toilets and showers so that the vet-residents could maintain their hygiene.
Other outside-the-box thinking is needed in assessing and implementing the eventual plan that is adopted. For example, how about recruiting some of the pre-eminent developers in Southern California such as Caruso Affiliated (developers of The Grove, Pacific Palisades Village Project) or Lowe Enterprises (developer of Teranea) to review, comment and possibly manage on a cost or pro bono basis the development of the new campus. These groups have the experience in developing attractive, successful projects.
But a new, effective VA campus will require dedicated space for: a) legal services, b) career counseling, c) arts and entertainment, and d) classrooms for tutoring veterans returning to colleges and universities.
Classrooms are particularly important because I have found from my work with student veterans that most need tutoring to provide an effective transition from the military to educational institutions because they have been away from academia for five, ten, fifteen or more years.
Questions have been raised about some of the uses of the land and facilities at the West LA VA campus. For example, UCLA currently leases Jackie Robinson Stadium for its baseball team at a cost of $5,000 per month. This area occupies approximately nine acres, and some question if this is the best use of this land and if the current rent is too low.
The future of the campus is uncertain; however, one thing is certain: those who have served in the military and who have therefore agreed to risk, and if necessary to give, their lives for their fellow citizens deserve the support of those whom they have defended. And, an opportunity to think about and ultimately to make available the best services possible is provided by the remodeling of the West LA VA campus.
Comments on the draft master plan by veterans and non-veterans alike are open until Dec. 7. As President Coolidge reminded us, our defenders need to be remembered.
– Dan Caldwell
Dan Caldwell is distinguished professor of political science and the chair of the committee on student veterans at Pepperdine University and served for three years on active duty in the Navy.