By PAUL COOK, SHANNON GROVE, JAY OBERNOLTE and DAWN ROWE
“A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards,” opined President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903.
It’s safe to say that Roosevelt would be appalled, as are we, by the recently announced plan to shutter the Barstow Veterans Home.
In his latest budget revision, which reflects a deficit brought on by COVID-19 and by the state’s stay-at-home order, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposes closing one of the state’s finest and most useful facilities, an idea so detached from reality that it would actually increase costs, while displacing nearly 200 veterans — many with serious medical conditions — and add 200 of the facility’s workers to the already overwhelmed unemployment line.
As your elected representatives, we strongly oppose this closure and will do everything in our power to fight it.
The Barstow Veterans Home was built to serve veterans in a location central to many military installations: Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms and Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. These bases, along with former military installations like George Air Force Base in Victorville and Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino, have led to a high concentration of retired military veterans in our region.
This circumstance prompted then-Congressman Jerry Lewis and a bipartisan coalition of local elected officials to push for the creation of the Barstow Veterans Home, which opened in 1996 and has since served these vulnerable communities under the operation of the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet).
The proposed closure will not help the state’s budget shortfall.
While Newsom’s May budget revision suggests that closure of this facility will save $400,000 in this fiscal year and $2.6 million over the next fiscal year, unless every resident of the home is relocated to other CalVet veterans homes — an impossible task due to space limitations and distances from families — the state will lose up to $3 million annually in federal funds that support these Barstow veterans.
To put this “savings” into perspective, despite the budget deficit, Gov. Newsom has retained $2.8 billion for the failed High-Speed Rail Authority in his budget revision, which could fund all eight CalVet-operated homes six times over.
In his State of the State address last year, the governor said this same high-speed rail project “cost[s] too much.” Rather than cutting services for our most vulnerable, this sounds like the perfect area to find savings.
Although CalVet has promised to relocate the veterans currently residing at Barstow, the nearest veterans home is located in Lancaster, which is an hour and a half away, and the West Los Angeles veterans home is even further. CalVet cannot guarantee sufficient space in these two homes. At best, our elderly veterans will be forced to choose between staying close to nearby family, in living situations heretofore unknown, or being relocated to veterans homes hours away.
Veterans are not a line item in a budget. They are human beings and, in this case, the bravest and most honorable among us. The Barstow Veterans Home represents our commitment to those who have served our country. Many of its residents bear physical and mental scars from their service in defense of our nation. Our county, state and nation owe a debt to the men and women who serve our country, and the presence of the Barstow Veterans Home is a small down payment on that debt. We strongly urge Gov. Newsom and the California Legislature to remember true sacrifice — that of our veterans living in the Barstow Veterans Home — and reconsider this proposed closure immediately.
Paul Cook represents the 8th District in the House of Representatives. Shannon Grove represents the 16th District in the California State Senate. Jay Obernolte represents the 33rd District in the California Assembly. Dawn Rowe represents District 3 on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.