Editor's note: This is an abridged version of an open letter addressed to Assembly Member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, and delivered as well to State Sen. Bill Dodd and Rep. Mike Thompson.
Your press release on Jan. 30 responding to the California State Audit of the state’s Veterans Homes was interesting and surprising. You made references in your press release such as “deeply troubled” and “shocking,” “wasted” or “diverted.”
Quite frankly, we are “shocked” that you were “shocked.”
The Yountville Veterans Group (YVG) has reached out to you, State Sen. Dodd, and Congressman Thompson many times in the last two years. And except for a one-time meeting with Sen. Dodd, none of you was responsive to our requests on behalf of the veterans and their families at Yountville.
The Yountville Veterans Group represents and speaks for a large percentage of the Veteran population at the Yountville Veterans Home, as demonstrated by our ability to generate multiple petitions addressing serious issues regarding the quality of life of the veterans. Those petitions were generated in a few days and were delivered to your offices in Napa, signed by hundreds of veterans and their family members living at all levels of care.
In the past year, we have successfully represented 80 veterans and their families in code of conduct and grievance hearings at the home and more veterans and their families are constantly seeking our help.
We have provided all three of you politicians with copies of our letters to the Little Hoover Commission and CalVet management on behalf of the veterans living at the Home, detailing the deplorable living conditions and those veterans that were suffering from neglect and abuse.
We have provided all of you with our reports and petitions, and even hand-carried them to your offices. Yet, in all that time, we never received a response (in-person, letter or phone call) directly from any of you, office holders. It has always been some convoluted statement filtered through your staff.
We have invited all of you to meet with us to discuss the conditions of the Home and the living conditions of the veterans and their spouses. We have offered to visit your offices in Napa to discuss the serious conditions at the Home and you have all avoided our requests.
Only Sen. Dodd was willing to meet with us, once, at his Napa office for less than one hour, but then failed to follow up on his personal commitment to help us secure proper living conditions at the Home.
We would have shared both our extensive and factual knowledge of the Home and its management with you if you had responded to our requests to meet.
Members of our YVG were involved in monitoring the veterans’ Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) Fund and were knowledgeable of the one-sided vendor contracts and the diverting of millions of Veteran dollars away from the Veteran’s MWR Fund into the General Fund.
Last year, veterans and their spouses were formally polled by the Yountville administration as to what activities and entertainment the Veterans were willing to give up, in order to adjust to a much smaller budget, due to the depletion of the Veterans MWR Fund. It was outrageous that the veterans and their spouses were forced to give up some of the activities, that they loved, due to the “robbing” of a fund that was specifically set up (many years ago) for their enjoyment and quality of life.
Due to the indifference of our local politicians and the CalVet management, the YVG chose to report the conditions of the Home to the Federal VA Inspector General (Criminal Division), since CalVet is required by law to comply with federal regulations for payment of per diem. We presented a two-hour, thorough report, to the Inspector General (IG). The IG listened to our presentation and the following week visited the Yountville Home and interviewed two of our member veterans in their living quarters.
The IG informed our member veterans that they were commencing an investigation of CalVet to determine if there were violations of federal regulations. After a thorough investigation, the IG cited CalVet for violating the same Federal Regulations that we had reported.
Assembly member Aguiar-Curry, your press release further informed us “you plan on working with Assembly member Jacqui Irwin to ensure necessary reforms are implemented and legislation is passed to fix our laws and protect our Veterans.”
If you are truly serious, and this is not just political rhetoric, we encourage you and your fellow office holders to personally, (not just your staffs) meet with us, the Yountville Veterans Group and our Veterans Associates.
We prefer any meetings to be held on the Yountville campus, so you may learn firsthand about the true living conditions that we veterans and our spouses experience, as well as the reforms we deem as priorities for our quality of care and quality of life.
James V. Peifer, chairman
James F. Thomas, vice chairman,
Yountville Veterans Group
Editor's note: The Register asked the legislators about the issues raised by the author. Sen. Bill Dodd and Assembly member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry issued the following joint response:
"We have the utmost respect for Yountville Veterans Home residents. They served our country faithfully and deserve to live their golden years in dignity and comfort. With that in mind, we helped fulfill a longtime request last year to provide single-occupancy rooms to all residents through the 2018-19 budget.
"As we were delivering on that promise, Sen. Dodd met again with a number of Home residents advocating the conversion of Madison Hall to residential use, and the Assemblymember looks forward to a similar meeting. Of course, that is the former site of the Pathway Home and was the location of the tragic killings of three women last year. We communicated the request to the leadership of CalVet. CalVet is conducting a mandated needs assessment and strategic planning process of the entire Veterans Home system that will be submitted to the Legislature later this year. It will guide the planning, construction and maintenance schedule of current facilities, including Madison Hall, for years to come. CalVet believes the assessment must be completed before major construction, renovation or the opening or closing of any facility.
"We continue pushing to address deferred maintenance issues and will continue working on behalf of residents of the Veterans Home and all veterans in Napa County. Additionally our staff has continuously made themselves available to all veterans in our district, including Mr. Peifer, on several occasions. We are reaching out to Mr. Peifer again and look forward to further conversations with him to address and discuss his concerns."