Update September 27, 2013: Supervisor Jacob's office has contacted us to advise that she met with County Veterans Services this week to request more equitable staffing. Her staffer advised that Jacob plans to introduce a measure asking Supervisors to approve sending veterans' service representatives to county libraries throughout our region. This is a direct result of our investigative report.
By Miriam Raftery
September 25, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – When Claudia Millerbragg, whose brother was killed in Viet Nam, decided to volunteer to help local veterans, she was shocked to discover that County Veterans Services sends representatives to a dozen different communities – but none to rural East County.
At a Homes for Our Troops event in March honoring combat vets who each lost both legs and now live in a rural area in El Cajon, Supervisor Dianne Jacob said that San Diego has the largest military installation in the world.
“In East County we have the highest concentration of military and veterans in San Diego County,” she added.
If East County has the most veterans, why does our region have the fewest services for them -- and no services at all in the poorest rural areas with no public transportation?
“Any rural East County vet has to commute at least 40 miles each way. To me, this is unfair to the men and women who honored their country by serving it,” Millerbragg told ECM.
The County does send a representative to La Mesa on Fridays. But that’s a two or three hour drive roundtrip in good weather for vets living in areas such as Campo, Boulevard, or Jacumba. It can even farther from mountain communities such as Julian or those coming from Borrego Springs in the desert. There is no mass transit – the trolley line ends in EL Cajon and Santee. So how is a disabled veteran or any vet without a car supposed to get help?
Millerbragg forwarded correspondence documenting that County Services has claimed it lacks funds to serve rural East County.
But an ECM investigation has found an abundance of service providers in wealthy coastal communities , North County and Chula Vista. Urban poor areas in San Diego south of I-8 also have a lack of services, along with rural East County. So why doesn’t the County juggle resources to consolidate services in areas in close proximity to other serviced areas, or make cuts in areas with easy access to mass transit? This alone could free up resources to send representatives to places like Alpine, Ramona and Campo, as well as to at least one of the urban core centers in southeast San Diego.
Here is the frequency that each area is currently served:
Clairmont Mesa – 5 days a week (20+ days/month) – there are as many as 4 representatives per day here.
La Jolla – 3 days a week (12+ days/month)
Chula Vista – 4 days a week(4+ days/month)
Escondido – 3 days a week (12+ days/month)
Oceanside – 5 days a week (20+ days/month)
La Mesa – 1 day a week (4+ days/month)
Vets Museum –1 day a week (4 times a month)
San Marcos – 2 days a month
Carlsbad, Encinitas, Rancho Bernardo, and Vista each have 1 day a month
Some of these areas are just a few miles apart. Millerbragg observes, "“The policy is unfair to East County vets. A few of us are strongly considering picketing the County Admin building downtown."
County Veterans Services helps veterans with a long list of programs and services such as applying for VA loans, disability benefits, education and vocational training benefits, medical needs, homelessness, and counseling.
Yerbie Carr, Quartermaster at the Alpine Veterans of Foreign Wars, told ECM, “I think it’s a great idea to provide services further east. In this post alone we have close to 450 veterans,” he said, adding that with auxiliaries, the number would be closer to 800. He added that it’s safe to say there are many thousands of veterans in rural East County who need these veterans’ services.
Millerbragg said she contacted federal, state and county officials to register her concerns, but thus far, nothing has been done. She even found a location, the Campo Library, that indicated a willingness to provide space if the County would send representatives out.
ECM contacted Supervisor Dianne Jacob. Her spokesman, Steve Schmidt, sent this reply: “Dianne is scheduled to meet with county Veterans Services staff Sept. 25 on this very issue. She wants to see what can be done to address it.”
ECM has asked for followup to learn the outcome of today’s meeting.