Modernizing Veterans Homes

June 22, 2020

California’s steep economic decline brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic has left lawmakers scrambling to close a projected budget shortfall of more than $54 billion. To help shore up this gap, Governor Newsom’s proposed budget called for the closure of the Barstow Veterans Home facility by July 2022, among other changes to the state’s veterans homes program. After vocal opposition from some groups, the Legislature’s budget proposal essentially rejects the Governor’s plan and instead calls for a softer response that includes a series of stakeholder meetings leading up to a report due next February to plan for the future of the home.

Regardless of the outcome, the Governor’s proposal reflected a modernized vision for the veterans homes that the Commission outlined in 2017.

California’s eight veterans homes are a point of pride for many in our state and have served as an enduring representation of our commitment to service members. However, after an extensive review of the veterans homes system, the Commission found an often-outmoded brick-and-mortar program that served fewer than 1 percent of the 1.7 state’s million veterans at an exorbitant annual cost of more than $300 million and consumed the majority of the state’s investment in veterans programs.

Our two reports, A New Approach to California’s Veterans Homes and Transforming the Yountville Veterans Home Campus, envision a restructured and modernized program that would better align state resources to meet the needs of more of our veterans today and in the years to come. We concluded California must:

  • Assess the changing demographics of California’s entire veteran population, identify their projected long-term care needs as well as the services currently available, and identify service gaps. This analysis should inform long-term planning for veteran services in California.
  • Evaluate each home for its effectiveness in meeting the needs of veterans. The state should close or repurpose those homes in little demand and redirect investment toward home and community-based care so that more veterans are helped.
  • Prioritize admissions in remaining homes and restructure programming to focus on serving veterans with the most intensive care needs, such as skilled nursing and memory care, and to increase availability of much-needed mental health care services.
  • Eliminate room and board care from the state’s veterans home program. This restructuring should be implemented gradually to honor the commitment made to current residents.
  • Immediately fix public safety threats at the Yountville Veterans Home’s Holderman hospital and move forward with plans to build a replacement skilled nursing facility on the campus. The state should explore strategic use of the available property for third party development to benefit veterans statewide.
Earlier this year, CalVet completed its Veterans Homes of California Master Plan, fulfilling the Commission’s recommendation to carefully evaluate each home within the system. The Master Plan echoed many findings and conclusions of our earlier reports, including eliminating offerings of underutilized, lower levels of care; expanding mental health services; and maximizing property use, particularly at Yountville. The exercise revealed weaknesses with some of the current homes, namely that some are located in areas where few veterans reside or where there are shortages of nursing or other staff required to provide care, or are distant from VA hospitals where many veterans seek medical care. The Barstow Home, in particular, did not meet any of the Master Plan’s criteria for an ideal veterans home, and CalVet concluded it “is not currently well-positioned to meet veterans’ needs.”

As the Administration and Legislature work to develop a long-term plan for the Barstow veterans home, and consider veterans services generally, they should bear in mind the Commission’s recommendations so that we better serve veterans now and in the decades to come. 

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