Commentary

Rickardo Flores Angel: Getting to know the regional veterans health system

I work in a VA hospital in Los Angeles. It is only 30 miles from my home in Newhall but because of heavy traffic, it can take up to an hour to commute to the hospital.

The hospital is in a nice area of West Los Angeles just off the 405 freeway at Wilshire Boulevard. With the words, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan,” President Lincoln affirmed the federal government’s obligation to care for those injured during the Civil War and to provide for the families of those who died. This is the mission of the Veterans Administration. Originally each state provided for their own veterans but since 1920 all veterans are included in the Federal VA system.

The clientele are mostly elderly, homeless and poor veterans but also includes younger veterans injured in a combat theater. Some services are also available to all veterans who served during a conflict regardless of income. A large portion of these veterans suffer from mental illness.

Slightly less than 10 percent of the nation’s veterans are homeless, just a little more than the percentage for the nation’s overall population. Minorities make up about 20% of the veterans statewide but are about 50% of the veterans using the West LA hospital. Until recently, only a tiny percentage of the veteran population was female, but that percentage has increased to almost 10 percent and as more military occupations open to women there will undoubtedly be more female veterans.

There are a variety of services available for veterans at the West LA VA; including hospitalization, clinics, housing, meals and help in applying for government assistance. There is also a large clinic at the Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Facility in Mission Hills. Outside community groups also bring clothes, food and entertainment for patients waiting for services. The largest group of veterans using the health services has become the Vietnam era veterans who have slowly replaced the World War II group of veterans.

Applying for health benefits can be tricky. A form DD214 is required and should be acquired first. Applicants can get help from the various veteran groups such as American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, etc.

There are over 300 volunteers working at the VA hospital. Volunteers help with patient transportation and in various offices. There are also a large number who help in the various clinics. Potential volunteers must apply at the West LA or Mission Hills Volunteer Office and receive training first. Call (310) 268-4350 or (818) 891-7711.

The area included in the Los Angeles VHA, Veterans Health Administration, includes Santa Maria, to Bakersfield and cities in between. There are clinics in most of these cities. Efforts are being made to provide Choice and CARE programs so that veterans can obtain health services at non-VA clinics locally instead of traveling to West Los Angeles for treatment.

Rickardo Flores Angel is a Newhall resident. His column was published Saturday in honor of Veterans Day.

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