NEWS FROM Sacramento » Laura FRIEDMAN

What More Could We Do For Them?

It never ceases to amaze me just how caring and dedicated our community is towards honoring those who deserve our praise. That dedication was on display this Veterans Day. When many others across the country simply took it as a day off work, our community joined to show an outpouring of gratitude and respect to our veterans. This year, as I listened to the speeches from veterans, community leaders and loved ones of those who served, I was filled with a sense of overwhelming gratitude for these brave women and men and their commitment to us all. However, in considering the magnitude of their sacrifices for us, I began to think – what more could we be doing for them?

There are some hard facts we have to face when it comes to the lives of many of our veterans. Did you know that every day single day, we lose 22 veterans to suicide? To date, we have lost more veterans to suicide than we have on the battlefields of both the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. While many professionals have attributed this alarming statistic to a range of combat-related trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder, the real, absolute, reason remains unclear. To truly understand the underlying cause could take a long time, so it is imperative that we bring online as many mental health services as we possibly can. However, let’s keep in mind that our veterans are not just victims of a mental health epidemic; they are also disproportionately represented as victims of the housing crisis.

According to this year’s data from the Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), there were a recorded 3,886 veterans living on streets without a home in 2018. Now, the shimmer of hope in that statistic is that this year’s number does represent a 19% decline from last year. This is a direct result of years of effort from government agencies and communities. While decrease is encouraging, I think we can all agree that even one homeless veteran on the streets is too many. This statistic isn’t just specific to our region; the high number of homeless veterans is a trend present throughout our state and nation.

So, what are we doing about it?

At the state level, we are continuing to take every opportunity we can to add funding and support to the services that are most effective in solving both the mental health and housing crises. In the 2018-19 budget, we included $500 million for emergency homelessness aid block grants, which will go to local governments for shelters, rental assistance and affordable housing construction. We added $50 million in aid to homeless individuals with mental illnesses. Because many veterans fall into both categories, portions of these funds will end up going directly to the benefit of veterans as well.

Our bipartisan cooperation didn’t end there. We worked together to ensure $8 million in funding for veteran resource centers at California Community Colleges. We also included a $9.2 million increase in funding for the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, which provides outreach and services to our veterans, offering everything from employment and home loan assistance to long-term care.

I am proud that we were all able to work together to secure this landmark funding for vital services; however, just providing funding is never enough. In the face of such dramatic circumstances we also must rely on community groups and nonprofits for help. One such nonprofit in Glendale – Wellness Works – has created an excellent and effective model based on a wide range of tested medical, mental health and wellness services that are made available to at-risk veterans. The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars organizations also contribute tremendously to helping care for their brothers and sisters in arms. There are always opportunities to help our veterans year-round throughout our region.

So, in the spirit of this year’s Veterans Day, I am calling on all of us, myself included, to renew our commitment to our veterans beyond just giving them our praise. Let us not rest until all of our veterans have a roof over their heads, full access to quality medical care, and the mental health services they need. I know for our state and community there are so many issues that need our attention and that our resources are often stretched thin. However, if anyone deserves our support, it is those who put their lives on the line for us. So please, join me in not only thanking them loudly with our words and commemorations, but with our commitment to action.

To get more information about the state’s work to improve the lives of our veterans, or a list of organizations that could use your help, please reach out to my District Office at (818) 558-3043.

Laura Friedman represents Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, and the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Atwater Village, East Hollywood, Franklin Hills, Hollywood Hills, Los Feliz, and Silver Lake.