By Marcie Polier Swartz
Founder CEO Village for Vets
Since the VA lawsuits of 2011 and the Settlement Agreement of 2015 new leadership has taken over the VA. Veteran’s Oversight Groups monitor the activities as mandated by the Settlement. Richard Valdez*, past Commander of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and currently Legislative Director for California, has been a constant presence while almost every article written about the VA since then asks …“Can the community really work with the VA and Veterans…?” (You can read the Settlement Agreement right here: https://www.aclusocal.org/sites/default/files/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/012815-West-Los-Angeles-California-Principles-for-Partnership-Framework-for-Settlement-Executed.ocr_.pdf)
As a community representative along with Jennifer Turchin, President of the Brentwood Village Chamber of Commerce, we invited Richard to dinner in early 2016. We had seen him at every meeting. We were hoping to get to know him and to develop a closer working relationship. Let me tell you what happened at the dinner. We ate, and he had a cup of coffee. His serious tone conveyed to us that friendship would not be earned over a dinner. He has been watching over our efforts to support the VA and now I think of him as a kind of guardian angel. Let’s talk to Richard today…
After the settlement agreement, you and your organization moved into a support and advisory role at the VA. What effect has that had?
“Well, Veterans were not being given the opportunity to express their thoughts on the agreements being made. I carried that message to Washington – to then VA Secretary Bob McDonald. Right on the spot he referred me to Vince Kane, his special assistant, who arranged a seat for us at the table.”
What positive changes has your participation resulted in?
“Our focus was solutions oriented vs. argument. The VSO Coalition (Veteran Service Organizations) studied the issues and had to consider the problems veterans face from the perspective of where they were in their life cycle and not from a static one point in life because veterans needs varied.
How many Vets does DAV serve every year?
“In West L.A. we serves several thousand Vets a year. We provide claims services and transportation. Our volunteer drivers cover over 100k miles a year driving Vets from home to the VA for their medical appointments and return them to their points of origin.”
There were many Veterans affected by the fires up north. We administered vouchers to them for emergency clothing food and shelter.
Does the DAV play a role in housing homeless Vets?
“Our primary focus is on assisting Vets with claims and appeals. That is the first step in qualifying for HUDVASH and other housing benefits.
What is your opinion of the Stand Downs in California?
“They are very important. The Veterans and the Community must come together to make it happen. The VA is doing their part. The VA needs the community to assist. Community involvement can enhance the Veteran’s Experience. Which also provides a positive experience for the Veteran’s families. The better they feel about themselves has a significant impact on the family.”
Your oversight helped us to provide legal services to many Homeless Veterans at the recent Stand Down at the VA. Richard, keep watching…
*Richard recently spoke at Congressman Ted Lieu’s Veterans Day Town Hall at the Wadsworth Theater. His service and career trajectory, which will be the topic for another day, was deeply moving and completely impressive. Like all Veterans, he is to be treasured.