I would like to thank you for the opportunity to be here today. My name is Ronald Green. I am the San Joaquin County Veterans Services Officer. My purpose for being here is to advocate for improvements in medical, substance abuse, and mental health care services for veterans in our region. Efforts are underway to improve and expand Veteran Services but, I believe that the current efforts need to be expedited if possible, and that more can be accomplished. I support increasing the number and staffing of the Vet Centers, I support expediting construction of the expanded specialty clinic and long term care facilities in French Camp, and I support opening enrollment in the V.A. Health Care System to all veterans with qualifying discharge and service.
Before the establishment of the Modesto Vet Center, the Central Valley between Sacramento and Fresno was bereft of a vet center. Service was provided on a contract basis by the Concord Vet center. Even now the Vet Center program needs to be increased with either more Vet Centers or increased staffing or both. As an example of the need, the Vet Center Director from Sacramento has advised that he is exploring the possibility of a twice a month outreach in Lodi in San Joaquin County. He also said that he was doing other outreach elsewhere.
Demand for Vet Center services is increasing for two principle reasons. The first reason is the return of OIF/OEF veterans and deployed reservists and National Guard. In the past, CDVA had provided us with information about recently discharged veterans. Based on that we were able to estimate that the number of new veterans returning to San Joaquin County each year would be between 420 and 450 each year.
The second reason is the number of times possible mental health issues have been raised during our claims preparation process. Claimants with mental health issues are provided with contact information and literature regarding the Vet Center and the VA Clinic and they are advised to contact them for help. The number of referrals from our office alone averages over 20 per month.
There are estimates that 10-20% of returning OIF/OEF combat veterans are afflicted with PTSD. This is compared with 10% for Desert Storm and 30% from Vietnam. PTSD has been a problem for veterans of other wars but the extent has been difficult to document. . I have three World War II veterans that I assisted who come to mind. The first was a Pearl Harbor Survivor; the second was in the Battle of the Bulge, while the third was on a destroyer hit by a Kamikaze plane.
PTSD not only affects these veterans but also leaves in its wake, failed relationships, and substance abuse.
The VA Health Care System and especially the VA Palo Alto Health Care System are leaders in dealing with PTSD. Palo Alto is the parent medical center for the three CBOC’s in San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tuolumne Counties. All provide mental health care. In addition to these three clinics, there are approved plans for an expanded medical and behavioral health clinic and long term care facility to be constructed in the Central Valley on 52 acres of land the VA has purchased in French Camp. This construction needs to start as soon as possible especially considering that the average age of the veteran population is about 60 years and that the size of the service population is close to 80,000. San Joaquin County partnered with the VA to construct a primary care clinic that opened approximately 5 years ago. The number of veterans utilizing that that clinic has already exceeded the capacity of the facility and plans are underway to build and open an expanded modular facility in the next year.
I am also advocating that enrollment in the VA Health Care System needs to be open to all veterans with qualifying discharges and service. It should be sufficient that a veteran has served honorably for the required length of time in order to enroll in the VA Health Care System. Assignment of a maximum income for enrollment makes the system tantamount to a welfare program. It should be enough that the veteran has served.
Again I would like to thank you for the opportunity to be here today. As I have said I support an increase in the Vet Center Program. I favor an accelerated schedule for the completion of the expanded skills clinic in French Camp. And lastly I would like to see the elimination of income limits for enrollment in the VA Health Care System.