There's been a battle going on in Fresno for the last decade. A battle that has both Republicans and Democrats fighting on the same side, all in hopes of opening the doors to a veterans' home in Fresno that is on track to be finished in Spring.
The construction will be completed on time, but in trying to close California's huge budget gap, Governor Brown cut the $14.5 million needed to operate the facility from his proposed budget. Earlier this month, the governor spoke about some of the other proposed cuts.
"We're cutting welfare by almost a billion and a half dollars. A mother and kids are getting the same welfare check, in real dollars that they did in the 1980's. [The] same for the elderly, the blind and disabled; [and] child care cuts. This is not nice stuff, but that's what it takes to balance the budget and that's assuming we get our tax revenues."
Brown's choice to cut the funding of the veterans home and let it remain un-housed doesn't sit right with local veterans' advocate Gordon Pickett. A Naval Academy graduate who after serving in the Navy for 26 years is considered one hundred percent disabled.
"They've got the money. It's just a matter of priority on what they want to spend it on. I think, primarily, the governor is holding the veterans hostage to get his tax increases. We've been promised and he's made statements and it's unconscionable and we really need to open the home and all and it was suppose to be in this year's budget.
Just this last Veteran's Day Governor Brown made the following address to Californians. "Today we honor their work, their sacrifice and yes, we honor what they are today and we don't forget that veterans after war also need things and this society should not forget them. So on this Veteran's Day let's remember the sacrifice but let us also rededicate ourselves to making sure our veterans have the education the health and the jobs that they, like other Americans, richly deserve."
With this in mind, Assemblymember Henry Perea (D – Fresno) stood before a group of veterans in downtown Fresno last Friday making the following pledge. "I will be proposing a list of alternative cuts to the governor's office that he can make so that $20 million will be restored so our veteran's home can open on time and on schedule, so that all these veterans behind us and those future veterans can have the access to the care they so desperately need."
More than 30,000 veterans will be returning to California after the most recent wars according to The Military Times. The Fresno Veterans Hospital already has 28,000 veterans enrolled and eligible to receive medical services. And although the hospital is expanding, veteran groups say we need more. Pickett says local veterans need a place to recuperate and to live. Pickett says since the Fresno Veterans Home has already been built, the governor's plan is foolish. "It's idiocy not to open the home. You build a $167 million, 27-acre facility and you just can't leave it sitting out there. It'll be just some of the homes where the mortgages haven't been paid and it'll be trashed. Even the small force that they planned ahead for security and maintenance, that ain't going to handle it."
When opened, the Fresno Veterans home will offer medical care and residency for 300 central valley veterans. Assemblymember Perea says the community needs this home opened. "I've been involved in this project for the last 9 years and to see the legs get cut out from underneath them at the very last minute is very disheartening and that's why today we did this news conference as a call to action. We're asking veterans, their families and our entire community to rally around this home because not only do the veterans need the care, but we're talking about 450 new jobs that would be created once this home opens."
Veteran Daniel M. Hernandez came out to sign Perea's petition to Governor Brown. He's proud of his 35-years of military service and plans to reside in the Fresno Veterans Home when it opens. "We're all gonna fight for this if it takes the last breath I've got." The Department of Veterans Affairs has been fully funded by the Obama Administration, receiving almost 110 billion dollars in 2010. Secretary of Veteran Affairs, Eric Shinseki addressed congress in 2010 about his concerns. "Veterans are disproportionately amongst our homeless, amongst our depressed, amongst our substance abusers, amongst our jobless."
The VA will make $100 million available in grants this year to help prevent veterans from homelessness, but whether some of that money can be used to operate the Fresno Veterans Home remains unknown. For now, Assemblymembers Perea and Linda Halderman (R – Fresno) have each started letter campaigns urging the governor to reconsider opening the Fresno Veterans' Home.