first_imgOn Friday, it was packed with movie trailers and tents from crews building sets for a new “Halloween” movie being shot there. I saw more parking spaces reserved for Fox TV producers and employees than for doctors and therapists. Building 5 – the old psych ward, which was deemed unsafe and too costly to fix after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake – now houses half a dozen Fox TV production staffs shooting pilots for next season. The old psych ward seems safe enough for them. Building 4 – a former alcohol and drug ward, and spinal cord injury clinic – is now used mainly as a storage building for film equipment. If our local vets need those services now – or an MRI, CT scan, or any emergency service at all – they have to go over the hill to the West L.A. facility or call 911. “We had a guy collapse in the picnic area a few months ago, and we had to call 911 and wait 20 minutes for him to be taken to a local emergency room,” one of the vets said. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for veteran care when one of your guys collapses at his local VA facility and has to call 911 for help. But the warning signs are right there at the entrance to Sepulveda in big red letters – “No Emergency Services Available.” All the directories and signs for Urgent Care Service, which used to be offered just a few years ago, have been covered with white tape. Things apparently are so financially tight that last year all the facility’s volunteers even had their $4.50 lunch coupons for sandwiches canceled to save a few hundred bucks. Class move. Walking out of the tunnel Thursday with the vets who had invited me, I noticed a sign on Building 22 that said the recreation room would be closed for a week at the end of the month so a movie could be shot inside. “We know these film projects bring money into the VA, but where’s it all going?” one Vietnam vet asked. “It sure isn’t coming back here.” “The Iraqi troops coming home are going to have to fight a bureaucracy we didn’t have to fight as young soldiers coming home,” a World War II vet added. Since 1999, Sepulveda VA has collected more than $2.5 million in film-production fees that were deposited into the medical center’s facilities-appropriation budget, according to Charles Dorman, director of the Department of Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. With the added revenue – and Congress increasing the VA’s overall budget by $3billion this fiscal year – you’d think there’d be a few crumbs left over for more services at Sepulveda, the vets say. If there is any good to come out of this Walter Reed debacle, it’s that a national spotlight has now been placed on all VA facilities, the vets say. Maybe now it won’t be so easy for VA gatekeepers to keep the public’s prying eyes out. “Who knows? Maybe the next time you stop by the VA, police won’t have orders to kick you out anymore,” Charley said. I wouldn’t count on it, Charley. Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. [email protected] (818) 713-3749 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! “Maybe we should take the tunnel this time,” Charley said with a smile as he looked over at me. The half-dozen Vietnam and World War II vets with us laughed, figuring Charley was right. Using the underground labyrinth of dimly lit, concrete bunkers that connect the old medical buildings at Sepulveda VA would cut the odds that the VA police would spot me and ask me to leave. Again. I get kicked out of the Sepulveda VA a lot these days. I think it has something to do with the columns I’ve written over the years about all the unkept promises, petty decisions and service cutbacks there. I get the feeling VA officials haven’t been thrilled with what I’ve written. They want me to ask for permission to go onto the North Hills facility now, accompanied by one of their damage-control guides. But the way I see it, the only invitation I need is from the vets themselves. The VA was built for them. They paid a big price for it. Still do. If they want me there, I’m there. The shameful, national embarrassment over the care of wounded vets at Walter Reed Army Medical Center made me want to see what our servicemen and -women returning from Iraq can expect if they choose to use the dwindling services left at the North Hills facility. Walking through the tunnel, the vets wanted to make it clear that the Iraq veterans are going to get quality outpatient medical care from some dedicated, overworked doctors, therapists, support personnel and volunteers doing the best they can amid annual staff cutbacks at the facility. They also wanted the Iraq vets to know they’re going to have to share the facility and parking spaces with crews from movies and TV shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy.” The filming trend has Sepulveda looking a lot more like a Hollywood backlot these days than a veterans’ outpatient facility. last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *