San Diego’s War on Veterans: A PTSD Controversy



Switch publishes critical education and career information to help Veterans transition, and we are constantly searching for new programs and resources to highlight for Veterans. Through our research, no story has been as shocking as the debate unfolding in San Diego over a Veteran transition center.

San Diego is a military town with one of the largest post-9/11 Veteran populations in the country. The San Diego Healthcare System was awarded $30 million to establish the Aspire Center – San Diego’s first in-patient treatment center providing a full suite of services from occupational therapy to vocational rehabilitation. This center is equipped to treat up to 40 patients at a time with services lasting from 30 to 120 days, and will provide much-needed specialized services to help transition Vets suffering from traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress to a successful civilian life.

The Aspire Center has a leased facility, staff members, and administrations, but one factor is preventing it from opening its doors to Veterans in need: a conditional use permit.

Administrators and parents associated with Old Town Academy, a K-8 charter school across from Aspire’s facility, are protesting the treatment facility out of concern for the students’ safety and security considering its close proximity to the school. According to the San Diego Reader, Old Town Academy parents signed a petition threatening to disenroll their children if the Aspire Center opened, potentially forcing the school to close. Old Town Academy is not the only dissenter. Mission Hills Town Council, Five Points/Middletown Business Association, and Old Town Chamber of Commerce reportedly opposed the center at an April community meeting.

In response to concerns from the community, the VA in San Diego agreed to provide 24-hour security, darken the windows and create a smoking area away from the school. But, the debate continues.

As post-9/11 Veterans, we find this myopic, “not in my backyard,” view a slap in the face to veterans who put their lives in danger to preserve the freedom of that community. The Aspire Center controversy is an unfortunate example of the widespread misperception of Veterans; an example that may potentially prevent thousands of service members from receiving treatment essential to starting their civilian life off on the right path.

There are roughly 2.4 million American men and women who are post 9/11 Veterans. A recent survey sponsored by The Mission Continues shows that Americans view Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans as “valuable assets to the country” just behind firefighters and nurses.

But, at the same time, Americans have a misperception, believing that the majority of returning Vets are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress (UNTRUE), have lower levels of education than non-Veteran counterparts (UNTRUE), and are more likely to suffer from drug addiction/alcohol than non-Veterans (UNTRUE).

It is easy to voice support for Veterans; it’s more difficult to act in support of them. The San Diego City Council will vote on the Conditional Use Permit for the Aspire Center on June 26th (today), ironically during National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month. Show your support for San Diego’s wounded warriors by contacting the City Council and encouraging them to vote in support of those who served our country, not in support of misguided fears.

Please send any questions and comments to switchstarter@gmail.com

Lisa and Dan are veterans and are currently students at Wharton’s MBA for Executives program. As part of a school project, they created a blog, Switch, to help Vets transition more smoothly (and find jobs). The blog has posts about transition considerations and critical resources.

Author

Lisa Nagorny and Dan Pick

Comments

  1. John Ledingham    

    I forwarded the blog on Aspire in San Diego to all my friends. Also contacted my city council person and asked her to support the Aspire Center. One of my friends (a Vet.) has a daughter working on graduate degree in Psychology. She said it might be worse for the Aspire Center occupants to have the school next door with the way the parents are acting. They might make the kids think the veterans are some kind of monsters. I wish the President could issue an executive order to send some of these parents into the combat zone for a tour as medic assistants. This is where all that cheap talk about supporting the troops hits the pavement. This is just incredible!
    John

    1. Liam    

      Well said John! It sounds like post Vietnam era BS. California politics as usual. Don’t worry, soon the only jobs left in California will be Federal Government and Federally funded projects like Aspire. They will then be begging them to open more Veteran Programs just to stimulate the dwindling economy. I say we close all military bases and pull all Fed funded Veterans facilities and projects from Cali and see how much they support Vets then.

  2. David Rogers    

    It is time for VA.to do what us right&start awarding money for PTSD,I’ve been turn down,planning to open a review on my case,I have new information.There are a lot of Veterans out there that have PTSD,VA seems to do all they can to turn us down.Who ever is in charge get your head out of the sand,there are probably thousands of us veterans walking around with it&don’t know it,because they were told by VA.that they don’t have this problem,I hope we can now get what we deserve,may need to make some changes at Va.start at the top,we only ask for what we deserve,
    Sincerely,David Rogers

  3. Stephanie Ruscigno    

    Whiskey tango foxtrot! Are you serious?? If this isn’t a classic case of lack of education (being generous here) not to mention compassion, then I’d like to know what is! NIMBY – how can this be?? In San Diego no less!!

    The parents and teaches in the ENTIRE school district should be begging to be a part of the solution (what a teaching moment) and enlist this target rich area (aka veterans) as assets in history and civic lessons. It is the Americanism lessons that are even more priceless. If we do not pass this on, the consequences are dire to our country. Who can answer what it means to truly be an American?

    Now, for the economic impacts… hmmmmmmm Wish I were at the city council to give my 2 cents! And ironically in Sacramento the founder of the Stand Down (1988 in San Diego) will be honored as the outstanding veteran of the year at the the annual Legislators
    Veterans Luncheon in a few hours!

  4. Dan    

    Update to the post: The San Diego Council voted for a continuance until July 24th. The charter school and the VA will continue negotiations.

    Video of the meeting: http://granicus.sandiego.gov/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=5408

    The transition center vote is the last clip, and meeting minutes will be posted as well.

  5. sherri    

    This is my comments I am posting to my Facebook page and to all the websites and I can find that are connected to the community involved in this case.

    Why is it when those with PTSD and traumatic brain injury finially get a great inpateint treatment home in a beautiful community the very people who go around always saying how they support the troops want to throw them out? Are some of you the same people who treated the Veitnam veterans like trash when they came home? Or are you the people who believe what you see in movies and TV who make out that all veterans with PTSD are going to be violent and kill you and your children? Or are you just ignorant because you have never gotten involved with community service to help veterans, never had a friend who is a veteran or a family member who served who has PTSD or TBI and you jumped to these wild conclusions? Whatever the reason you should be so ashamed of yourselves for making these honorable veterans once again feel stigmatized and unwanted! I am heartbroken that you even want my brothers and sisters in arms to have blacked out windows on what is supposed to be a healing place for them to go for several months. Remember these are the same people who willingly went to war to give you the freedom to have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What have you given for them! I think all of you who signed any petition, spoke against or went to protest this center at your city councel meeting need to educate yourselves about both conditions and volunteer to help veterans in your community and at the local Veterans hospital. Your actions and words have done so much damage that you must now work to make it right. It is behavior like that found in your community that makes so many of us veterans feel so disconected from those who do not serve when we return from war. TSgt,

  6. Casey Murphy    

    Lisa and Dan,

    Because you are Wharton MBA students, it seems surprising that you put so little research into your post. I am a parent at Old Town Academy and I’ve watched this issue since it surfaced last Fall. I can assure you that there is no misperception about veterans and I’ve certainly never heard anyone claim that there is a higher incidence of PTSD among veterans or questioning the education level of the veterans. In fact, in every meeting I’ve attended, community members and school parents have supported the program. (You might be interested to know that the VA physicians have provided research indicating a higher incidence of drug/alcohol abuse – so that particular statement in your post warrants correction).

    Imagine your child looking out his/her window directly into the bedroom window of your adult neighbor across the alley. This is what the view is from the school to the proposed facility. Imagine your child’s school having to go into lockdown several times a year because a fight broke out across the street (this is a fairly common occurrence in similar VA facilities – usually between vets from different military branches). Imagine your child’s school playground filled with cigarette smoke that the ocean breeze carries eastward across the street. None of these concerns have anything to do with the patient population that the proposed center with serve, and it is unfortunate that people are trying to make this a veteran issue.

    The center does have widespread support among the community, and from the school, and there are locations within a quarter mile (read:still in the “backyard”) that have been proposed as alternatives because they provide just enough buffer from the school that lockdown wouldn’t be required. Sadly, it is the VA’s beaurocracy that precludes those alternative sites from being explored – even though they are bigger facilities at a lower price. Now that’s unfortunate.

    For what it’s worth, several of the school parents are married to post-combat vets suffering from PTSD. I have a child with PTSD and co-occurring disorders that cumulatively amount to what is considered “severe mental illness.” We are not an ignorant bunch. We know mental illness, and we know that its unpredictable nature makes it a less than desirable neighbor for an elementary school.

    Kind regards.

    1. Bill Crews    

      Wow, ignorant all the way through. They support the center, just not across the street. Cigarette smoke from across the street? Really? That bothers people? What about car exhaust? Should we move the streets? Yes, kids looking into the “bedrooms” of their neighbors, I have to laugh at that one. It’s across the street and what about their actual neighbors? They don’t look at them? They aren’t vets? OHHH, they don’t know, so ignorance is bliss. Schools go into lockdown because of a fight at an adjacent facility? That’s new, but if so, so what? Have you ever been in a VA in-patient facility? I have and more than one occasion for PTSD. Never saw a fight. Not saying they don’t happen, but where does this data come from? Not ignorant, just a little dramatic. So, a quarter mile away makes it safe? If not, then how far? Bunch of pansies. Stop and think of all the “real” threats in this world and you MAY have an epiphany. I’m hoping so, anyway.

    2. USMC VET    

      Imagine not being able to put your kid in a charter school because American’s Veterans didn’t do their jobs. Imagine what combat is like lady, imagine seeing your frinds get shot, imagine seeing RPG’s, IED’s and EFP’s. Imagine that. Quite frankly my dear, no one gives a damn about your “views” from across the street. Except for the panzies that are with you.

    3. Randy Carlson    

      Casey,
      One other comment/question about this quote.

      “This is what the view is from the school to the proposed facility. Imagine your child’s school having to go into lockdown several times a year because a fight broke out across the street (this is a fairly common occurrence in similar VA facilities – usually between vets from different military branches). ”

      I can’t say I have ever heard of a school having to go into lockdown because of a VA facility. Can you cite some examples of this?

      Thanks
      V/R
      FRC

    4. David Dubin    

      As a two-tour Vietnam veteran with PTSD, I am not at all surprised. The public that turned against the military in the 60s and 70s now has children who are starting to turn against the young men and women of the latest not-so-popular conflict. It is ironic that the very people who “are protesting the treatment facility out of concern for the students’ safety and security…” are the very same people who demanded that these same American men and women go to war to provide safety and security from global terrorism.

      Those of us who have PTSD deal with it in different ways. One of the ways that helps the most is to visit the VA Medical Centers and the Vet Centers for assistance and group therapy. We seek an environment that is caring, understanding, and non-judgmental in which we can work through our issues and share solutions. What you and the others like you have done by your poorly thought-out actions is to exacerbate the symptoms of PTSD for those young men and women who need treatment in your area. Did you know that some of PTSD’s symptoms are a marked distrust of the government and those who have not experienced what we have, a disassociation, disconnection, and segregation by others, and the loneliness and frustration of this disconnection and withdrawal? Can you see where you have made a generation of American veterans feel unwanted, guilty, and angry? Would you treat your own child like that? If not, why would you treat my child like that or your neighbor’s child?

      And for the record Mr. Murphy, I know many Vietnam veterans and Post 9/11 veterans who have PTSD and very few of them are alcoholics and drug addicts as you imply in your posting. If there is an “ism” that most of us have it is workaholism because we immerse ourselves in work or volunteerism to keep ourselves busy. When a young man or woman enlists in the military, they sign a blank check to the Constitution, the nation, and the American people. That check is good for every wound imaginable that can be suffered, including the ultimate sacrifice. We do it because we believe in our country and our countrymen. You have cashed the checks of the people for whom this center was designed to support; now it is your turn to do the right thing, but you didn’t. The actions of the people of your city remind me of a very old poem:
      “God and the soldier men adore, in times of trouble and times of war,
      But when the war is over and the trouble righted, God is forgotten and the soldier slighted.”

    5. joey    

      It seems to me, after a closer look. Either those that are opposed to the Aspire Center are either selfish or stupid. an atricle from the Union Tribune quores the director of the Old Town Academy as stating “the school has raises $200,000.00 to move into the building that the VA wants to lease for the Aspire Center. That same atricle goes on to say that Mr Donahue says “besides, we where here first”. If this is the attitude that the Director of a school displays then I pity the fool that sends their children to that school. Tey will not be very well educated. Unless the education is to learn how to lie, cheat whine and steal to get what they want.. As for the close proximity, what better teaching moment as to the real sacrifices our troops make.

  7. Dan Pick    

    Casey,

    Thank you for your comments. To clarify, we derived our information from minutes from several neighborhood meetings and news articles, including the LA Times (link below). From these sources, it it appears that misinformation and misunderstandings seem to be a large part of this conflict. In fact, at the San Diego City Council meeting, (http://granicus.sandiego.gov/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=5408), it was stated that “we have all gotten smarter” about the situation at hand throughout the negotiation process. It is very encouraging to see Old Town Academy and the VA work together to reach an agreement and overcome these misunderstandings.

    The research findings about the misperceptions vs reality of veterans’ education levels, drug use, and PTSD are statistically significant. I’m not familiar with the research from the VA Physicians; we pulled our information directly from the study cited in the article and encourage you to click the link we provided if you have any questions or concerns about where that information came from.

    Also, it is our understanding that there are only five of these transition centers across the country and are not familiar with any regular violence associated with these facilities. If we are mistaken, feel free to post any reports or statistics that suggest otherwise.

    Below are links to our sources, including meeting minutes from Uptown Planners and Mission Hills Town Council. (The town council minutes from the May 1, 2012 meeting were not available online). We encourage readers to look at these documents and form their own opinions.

    http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jun/25/local/la-me-ptsd-20120626

    http://www.missionhillstowncouncil.org/Resources/Documents/MINUTES%20Jan%2012%202012%20Town%20Hall.pdf

    http://www.missionhillstowncouncil.org/Resources/Documents/VAletterrevII.pdf

    http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs/news-ticker/2012/apr/04/fight-over-old-town-military-housing-facility-cont/

    http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=9&ved=0CF8QFjAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fuptownplanners.org%2Fyahoo_site_admin%2Fassets%2Fdocs%2FUptown_Planners_Draft_Minutes_for_April_2012.129180802.docx&ei=WgDuT66gMeKg6QH40YmcCg&usg=AFQjCNEEH0bkQiKxclXeP_ovuz6Kr-EKFA

    1. Joey    

      This NIMBY syndrome is exactly why I will never support local establishments in Old Town. Oh I am sure when the corporate headquarters of ARCO, Fred’s, and Holiday Inn get wind of the form letter that was sent heads will roll. Those magagers, general managers, etc had no authorization from their Corporate office to submit such a letter. How do I know this? I spoke directly to the regional office and they are outgaged at the letter. Many will be writing in support of the Aspire Center.

  8. Randy Carlson    

    Casey,
    There is an ongoing battle within the Army for veterans to report PTSD symptoms in order to break a very negative trend in suicides. Intentional or not, this case you are defending is a devastating reminder that good people like yourself see them as, how did you say it? – “unpredictable” and “less than desirable”.
    Very sad story, for these vets, for the workers who dedicate themselves to healing them, the School, and, yes, Casey, for you personally, assuming you have a conscience. Despite your claim to not be ignorant of the inner workings of PTSD, it is highly doubtful that you know much about the problem of PTSD. You are in good company, some of the smartest people IN THE COUNTRY are struggling to figure this one out and no one has a handle on this yet. You are not nearly as smart as you think you are.
    The one thing that most of the research shows is that it is critically important not to isolate these people. What your school has done, out of fear and the usual problem of people thinking they know the score, is to come down on the side of institutional banishment, which is diametrically at odds to what needs to happen to these guys.
    With that, I must say that it is probably a good idea for the VA to plan to move this. The very act of the local people treating this facility as a negative impact fatally taints the very well thought and caring environment in the first. Further, moving it a few blocks away probably will not help, the damage is done.
    While you may have a child with PTSD (I have a special needs child as well), I do not know if you have ever identified and helped someone who has PTSD in all of its adult manifestations. I have, twice, and it is probably the best thing I have ever done in my life. The whole story is just sad. But, at this point, what is done is done, move the center as this fight has just made it useless.
    V/R
    LTC Randy Carlson
    Baghdad, Iraq

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