No Veterans Welcome
Opposition to the VA San Diego Healthcare System opening a veterans’ treatment center in Old Town has turned ugly.
On one side, Old Town residents aligned with officials from Old Town Academy Charter School, which sits next to the VA’s proposed site on San Diego Avenue.
On the other, the San Diego VA, which signed a five-year lease for a 40-bed domiciliary in an old Thomas Jefferson School of Law building.
The proposed VA domiciliary would offer counseling and treatment for Post Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injury, and occupational therapy in a live-in setting. An average stay would be three to four months.
The hard battle lines drawn might reflect more widespread misgivings Americans feel toward living with combat veterans who now need help fitting in to society.
In a handful of towns and cities across the United States, communities have opposed veteran facilities and forced them proposed locations.
The Old Town contingent wants to do the same. It suggests that the veterans would pose an unacceptable threat to schoolchildren and that another site must be found.
Old Town citizens want to know what, for example, the VA would do if a veteran looked at school children. And who would keep them from talking to tourists or roaming the streets?
Such disparaging questions and their implications rankle San Diego VA officials, who believe men and women good enough to fight the country’s battles — and be honorably discharged — are good enough to be respectfully treated where accommodations can be found.
The need for residential facilities for veterans is a well known.
This would be especially true in San Diego County, home to 30,000 Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans – the largest population in the country.
The proposed domiciliary would house male and female veterans tightly screened for admission into “The Aspire Center.”
Monday’s discussion at City Hall in San Diego on permitting requirements was to be heard at 10 a.m. in a small 3rd floor conference room.
When more than 70 people showed up, the meeting was delayed 30 minutes and moved.
San Diego County veteran advocates caught wind of the Old Town opposition and turned out in force.
The meeting proceeded civilly, but barely so. When an Old Town concerned citizen swore her group was not against veterans in the least, she was immediately challenged.
Some Old Town residents’ concerns were clearly valid: Will dangerous veterans be admitted to the program? What kind of security will be in place? Will powerful drugs be dispensed?
Robert Smith, acting director of the San Diego VA, answered the questions he could and promised additional information when he could not.
But the lingering impression left by the Old Town opposition is one of people searching for any and all reasons to send this project packing.
First they questioned the wisdom of hosting these veterans in an area known for drinking and liquor stores.
Never mind asking why put a school in such a neighborhood.
Then the residents worried about noise from the neighborhood triggering Post Traumatic Stress. And what about fireworks? And what about the sounds from Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego? And then they worried about their building being sufficiently earthquake proof.
Generously considered, these spurious concerns about the welfare of veterans were about as genuine as a $5 Rolex.
No, the message from Old Town to our veterans is clear: Thanks for serving, but go away because we don’t want to see you much less live with you.
But don’t think Old Town any less patriotic then other Americans.
Communities from Florida to Wisconsin to Massachusetts to California have all fought veteran facilities of one kind of another. Often winning.
But for this to happen in San Diego County, with such a heavy military and veteran population, is an eye-opener.