Essential Reforms for California’s Veterans Homes

January 11, 2022

The California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) has identified six long-term options for the Barstow Veterans Home, which was built to house 400 veterans in the San Bernardino desert but has operated for years at less than half of its capacity. It does not meet any of CalVet’s criteria for an ideal veterans home.

CalVet’s options for Barstow include eliminating room and board care, expanding the skilled nursing facility, and closing the home completely. The report analyzes the costs of each option and the impacts each may have on the state’s budget as well as CalVet’s ability to serve aged and disabled veterans.

While CalVet does not conclude with a specific proposal for the future of the Barstow Home, the report itself, along with many of its long-term options, echoes recommendations made by the Little Hoover Commission in its 2017 report, A New Approach to California’s Veterans Homes.

Less than 3,000 of California’s more than 1.7 million veterans live in the state’s eight veterans homes, the Commission found in its report, yet the cost of care and upkeep constitutes the bulk of the state’s funding for veterans programs. “I’m very sensitive to the fact that so large a part of my effort – personnel, dollars and everything else – goes to the homes where we’re treating .001 percent of our California [veteran] population,” CalVet Secretary Dr. Vito Imbasciani testified to the Commission at the time of its review.

In order to modernize the veterans home program while simultaneously meeting the needs of a changing veteran population, the Commission called for a bold reimagining of veterans care in California and urged leaders to:

  • Review each veterans home as it approaches its 20-year mark to determine whether CalVet should repurpose or shutter any homes and make recommendations to policymakers regarding the future of each home.

  • Ensure the neediest veterans have access to the homes by prioritizing admissions based on financial status or disability rating.

  • Eliminate room and board care gradually to instead focus on providing high-level medical care, such as skilled nursing care.

Such action is urgent to ensure that California effectively serves its veterans, and state leaders have taken promising steps toward reform. In 2020, CalVet released its Veterans Homes of California Master Plan which carefully evaluates each veterans home based on five metrics – nearby veteran population, proximity to VA medical facilities, appropriate levels of care, local healthcare infrastructure, and ability to hire facility staff. Just one of California’s veterans homes met all five criteria.

The Yountville home requires particular attention. Also in 2017, the Commission detailed the challenges facing this home in Transforming the Yountville Veterans Home Campus. In that report, the Commission found that residents at this facility too often lived in decrepit buildings that, at times, put their health and safety at risk. Yet year after year, California devotes hundreds of thousands of dollars for deferred maintenance that patch, but do not solve, the Yountville veterans home’s significant infrastructure problems. CalVet has designated the Yountville home as one of its top priorities.

The Commission called for the creation of a new, independent entity to lead the modernization of the Yountville Veterans Home. Led by experts in public financing, real estate development, construction, and historic preservation, this new entity would be empowered to plan, design, and manage all aspects of revitalizing the campus that so many veterans call home.

Reforming the state’s veterans homes is essential to provide California’s veterans with the level of care they deserve. As state leaders continue this imperative work, the Commission encourages them to consider its recommendations for modernizing and transforming these homes into efficient and effective models of care for our neediest veterans.

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