When someone mentions that it takes an entire village to raise a child, they could be talking about how military veterans’ needs are not being addressed in Santa Barbara County.
A general assessment survey of veterans and their care, commissioned by the Santa Barbara Foundation, reveals a core problem: While there are many caring individuals and organizations helping veterans, there is no real “center of gravity,” according to the report.
Details of the survey were discussed last week at a meeting in Solvang. Many of those who attend to issues facing veterans were in attendance, and the fact that many of them had never met or didn’t know the other caregivers is a major component of the lack-of-a-center problem.
The overall conclusion of the survey is that Santa Barbara County veterans services are very much like those those provided to veterans in other parts of the country, with a couple of very significant exceptions.
First is access to affordable housing, which is a major issue with veterans here. Of course, access to affordable housing spreads far beyond the veteran population — it’s an issue for all local residents of average financial means trying to find housing in one of the most expensive markets in America.
We’ve been in search of solutions to the affordable housing crisis for years, but have yet to come up with anything that would work — short of changing local attitudes about not having affordable units in your back yard.
The other distinction is local veterans’ access to health care. The root cause is that the Veterans Administration has been hampered by inferior leadership and dwindling financial resources, which for Santa Barbara County veterans means having to drive or be transported to Los Angeles for VA health care.
This sort of situation exemplifies how military veterans are being short-changed. They served their country, but their country is lax in serving them.
In some cases, local veterans needing health care are told by the VA that care is available within days, but then wait months for that care. The same is true when a veteran seeks mental-health care.
That last part can be particularly harmful, both to the veteran seeking help, and innocent victims of violent outbursts by veterans who need help, fast, and can’t get it. What justification is there when a veteran has a severe mental-health crisis, and he or she is told they can get an appointment in a couple of weeks?
There are about 22,000 military veterans living in Santa Barbara County, and the majority of them are coping. But many are not. For proof, just look at the county’s homeless population, where you will find a disproportionate percentage of veterans on the streets.
The assessment report recommends ways to improve veteran services — developing a mechanism for cooperation and coordination of veteran services, possibly by creating a central point of activity and communication; and expanding access to health care.
Our recommendation is that the caregivers who attended last week’s meeting coalesce, create an infrastructure, and set about the task of creating that “center of gravity” referenced in the survey report.
It’s the sort of activity one might expect from the VA and other federal agencies, but their leaders seem too bogged down in a bureaucratic maze to function properly.
In the absence of the care and attention promised to our military veterans, but not delivered by the federal government, it’s up to local leaders to take command of the situation.
Like so many issues facing the Central Coast, the veterans problem needs a regional approach.