Robust Support System and Millions in Housing for Veterans

(Left to Right) LA County Veterans’ Advisory Commissioner and Army Veteran Dennis Tucker, Marine Veteran and Formerly Homeless Advocate Wendell Blassingame, LA County Community Development Commission Executive Director Monique King-Viehland, Soldiers Project Executive Director and Marine Veteran Michael McDowell, Supervisor Kathryn Barger, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center Executive Director and Marine Veteran Tess Banko, Los Angeles Veterans Collaborative Co-Chair and Vietnam War Veteran Tony Hicks, and LA County Department of Mental Health Director Jonathan Sherin. All photos by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Kathryn Barger to create a countywide support network that will enable veterans to help fellow veterans, and allocate $20 million to provide housing for veterans experiencing mental health issues and housing challenges in Los Angeles County.

“It is fitting that we are taking action on the Countywide Veteran Peer Access Network on the day after Memorial Day,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “We can never repay our brave men and women for their service to our country, but the least we can do is make sure they have the support they need to lead lives of dignity and purpose.”

LA County Community Development Commission Executive Director Monique King-Viehland testifies before the Board of Supervisors.

“This action establishes a network which enables our veterans to help fellow veterans access vital resources, including mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and housing,” Supervisor Barger said. “Meaningful peer-to-peer interaction and engagement, paired with supportive services and housing tailored for veterans’ needs, will result in improved outcomes for those who have served.”

The motion calls for creating the Countywide Veteran Peer Access Network by expanding the number of veteran peers employed by the County, as well as nonprofit organizations contracted by the County to serve veterans. It also incorporates $5 million to immediately facilitate access to existing housing stock through the Countywide Veteran Peer Access Network, and an additional $15 million to create new affordable and permanent supportive housing units for veterans experiencing homelessness.

 Los Angeles Veterans Collaborative Co-Chair and Vietnam War Veteran Tony Hicks and UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center Executive Director and Marine Veteran Tess Banko testify before the Board of Supervisors.

Tess Banko, a Marine Corps veteran whose husband tragically committed suicide while on active duty, testified, “This motion will not only serve to tighten the fabric of community in ways that are vital for veterans like me and their families, aiding in prevention and overall health, but it will also create a portal for direct access to coordinated services that can help those in need quickly and easily access assistance when it is most needed.”

“(The motion) not only touches my heart, but it touches every homeless veteran in Los Angeles County,” said Wendell Blassingame, a former Marine Corps veteran who used to be homeless but is now residing in a supportive housing unit provided by the County.

Last year’s Homeless Count found almost 5,000 homeless veterans countywide on any given night.