by Dr. Jim Gschwind USMC, USabn, USNsw ret
The Despondent Correspondent–
Homeless are near and dear to my heart. I have a former Marine son who for 20 years almost has been living off the grid as a homeless veteran at Kaneohe with his buddies, living in tents and bragging about it.
When I worked at VA headquarters (they call it Central Office VACO) so as not to upset the Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefit Association and Veterans Cemetery Association. When the VA became a cabinet post all these ‘autonomous” organizations kept going their separate ways independent of a new Higher Cabinet Level Headquarters. While I commuted every five weeks between D.C. and Pensacola for a possible use of my telecommuting day or my day off in conjunction with a national holiday or just a weekend while my late wife was being cared for by hospice in home (Coventry is great), I used to give feedback on my horrible treatment at the VA flagship Regional Health Center in Washington DC and make suggestion on how things can be implemented.
I would ask “why can’t we just tell the other Administrations what to do, after all we are their headquarters?” My fellow analysts would laugh and say, no way the supposed subordinate agencies would go for it.
Anyway, a local volunteer council confined the VA JACC here in Pensacola to transfer this event to a small hidden building in the middle of bad neighborhoods, thinking that “migrant VA homeless” might find their way there. This happened last week and I’ll tell you there were less than maybe 40 or so actual homeless veterans at the Salvation Army grounds which are smaller and a cafeteria that can only hold 40 people at a time?
This was a disaster. Homeless VA vets (less than approx 50) were outnumbered (thank you to our wonderful community) by about 20 to one. In other words the Elks wound up serving free food to about 100 or more “volunteers” rather than VA Homeless Vets.
A local politician took this opportunity to abuse the system by making this even her personal campaign to be local tax collector. If this was done on government property the Hatch Act would have prevented anything like this from disturbing the even.
Now I’ve volunteered at the local VA campus which is nice and spacious and they are actually Funded for annual homeless Vet standowns Pay close attention to those words>…VA Homeless Standown……which means the VA is supposed to lead. I talked to their Homeless Veteran section and just about all agreed “we gave them a chance because they said they could do it better……they can’t…..we should retake the lead on this”. I will not disclose the high ranking official that said this, but I totally agree. Most of you know that is hard for me to agree with the VA on anything after fighting them since 1990. Now I’m a VA service rep dedicated to the proposition that I want the VA to take care of my friends and shipmates before it is too late for them….
I remember they ignored my best friend from the Pentagon who ran the Navy Command center enlisted watch list while I did the same for the National Intelligence Center in the Pentagon and was Assistant to the Director Naval Intelligence (Adm Joh Butts) and briefer to the CNO (Adm Carlisle Trost who we both served under when he was seventh fleet commander) while he died after asking me for help with his paperwork and I had to reluctantly tell him and his family at this late stage not to count on anything from the VA except a marker. This was made up for my his post showing up in force and in uniform to pay tribute to him.
His personal motto even as he lost his strength was “life is good”. I made it my mission to “reach out” and tell veterans that are young and just getting out of the service….get your stuff together now. It’s difficult I know “Bud” Day did my medical record review in 1989 in his little office off racetrack in Fort Walton but I still had to fight the VA for every 5 or 10 percentage points since my retirement in Dec 1989 off the Lady Lex. This is despite the fact that since then I’ve had two heart attacks, a stroke, cateract surgery both eyes, operations in both shoulders and three back surgeries and two spinal implants….I take a likkin’ and keep on tikkin’!
There should not be three separate administration of the VA and their “regions” should not be so off kilter. Each VA Facility should have reps for the Cemetary Administration and the Benefits Administration but should drop the separate “administration” titles and just become the Veterans Administration. Most VA employees are good hones people who are veterans themselves but are working in an antiquated organization from the past and with “overhiring of veterans” to show they care. wind up with too many “cubicle rangers” looking for something to do as they employ four people often to do the work of one.
VA projects such as the Homeless outreach should be kept with the VA “lead” (they’ve had up to 800 participate annually vice 40 or 50 this year). It’s one of the things they actually do best. i.e. Planning a major event….they have the resources and our community can stil provide volunteers.
That’s how we fix the VA. Let’s get hot and do it.