April 16, 2008 – Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., raised a novel idea Wednesday for helping families of veterans suffering from severe traumatic brain injuries or life-changing combat wounds: build homes for for them on the campuses of VA hospitals.
She brought up the idea during a Senate defense appropriations subcommittee hearing at which the service surgeons general were peppered with questions about whether the government is truly prepared for the long-term obligation of helping the families of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.
The surgeons general said they shared her concern about meeting those long-term needs but did not endorse her idea because she is talking about a change that would have to be made by the Department of Veterans Affairs, not the military.
Vice Adm. Adam Robinson, the Navy surgeon general, said the services recognize the long-term obligation to help injured combat veterans and their families.
“The question is how,” he said.
Feinstein said she’s discussed her idea with VA Secretary James Peake, who also was noncommittal, and will not give up on it easily.
The VA hospital in West Los Angeles has 300 acres of undeveloped land that has been under some dispute because it is in a prime location. Feinstein said building housing for veterans and their families on the land would address the concerns of neighbors who do not want a large development of commercial high-rise buildings on the site, and would also give veterans and their families easy access to VA facilities for treatment.
“There is enough property to do it,” she said.
Feinstein said she offered VA’s West LA campus as an example because she often visits the site, but she believes such housing also could be built at other VA facilities around the country.
Feinstein and other California lawmakers have been trying to block VA from leasing out the unused land for commercial purposes, but they have not agreed on what to do with the property. Some want the land to be public park land, some have proposed building housing for homeless veterans and others have talked about leaving it completely undeveloped so it can be used by future generations.
Until now, Feinstein had not proposed a specific purpose for the land.
Family housing, other than temporary housing for a family during a medical emergency, is not typically provided by VA. Feinstein did not say whether the housing would be provided free, similar to family quarters on military bases, or if tenants would have to pay rent.
Living so close to VA care would be especially important for families whose homes are far from military and veterans’ hospitals or clinics, she said.