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The West LA VA Campus Needs a Board of Advisors: My Public Comments to the VA

(Michael C is writing today on behalf of a group veterans who are working to fix some of the long-term problems plaguing the West LA VA Campus in Los Angeles. To learn more go to #VATheRightWay.org. Then please comment. Today is one of Michael C’s public comments he’s submitted to the Veterans Affairs department.)

A board of advisors.

Those four words could do more to improve the functioning and conditions of the West LA VA Campus than any plan ever could.

A board of advisors.

I wrote it again because I just like the sound of it. But really, having boards with established oversight over public institutions is a time-tested way to improve the function of government. The University of California is overseen by a board of regents. Publicly traded companies have boards of directors. Communities have established school boards and police advisory boards. Simply put, when a community wants a voice at the table over how any organization works--from a school system to police to companies--they establish independent boards with oversight authority.

A board of advisors.

The VA Campus has shown that it needs this oversight. The litany of issues that were settled in the current lawsuit all stem from not having this crucial oversight. Contracts with private companies that don’t benefit the veterans of LA? Those wouldn’t happen (or would be severely curtailed) with a board providing independent oversight. Long term leases that don’t contribute to veteran health or welfare? Those wouldn’t happen with a board providing independent oversight. A lack of housing to serve the different needs of homeless or housing-insecure veterans at the West LA VA Campus? Again, that wouldn’t happen with a board providing independent oversight.

A board of advisors.

Really, the board isn’t about fixing the current issues. In many ways, the proposed plan will solve some of the current issues, like a lack of housing for veterans and ending inappropriate extended use leases). But in ten years? Or twenty years? Or beyond? Can any plan on paper fix those issues? They can’t. Unless the VA establishes a process to ensure that the land upon which the West LA VA Campus sits is properly managed for the benefit of veterans. So that’s what I recommend...

A board of advisors.

Because whoever the VA puts in charge of running the facility won’t have the best interests of our community; he’ll want to advance his career in the VA. He or she will answer to their bosses. We need to eliminate this incentive. We need to eliminate any opportunities for waste, fraud and abuse. We need independent oversight.

A board of advisors.

Here is my proposal. (Though, any board of oversight would be better than none, even if it doesn’t follow my exact plan.) The board should consist of 7 to 9 appointed individuals. The individuals should be appointed by different stakeholders including the VA, veteran’s groups, the mayor’s office and possibly the governor’s office. The board should have a minimum of 33% veteran membership and positions should be held for a four year term. The board should have a minimal budget, but should have enough funds to conduct independent investigations and audits.

The board’s purview should include approving any land management issues. This includes approving extended use and short term leases, new housing and construction and land management decisions. The board should provide advice on any veteran issues in general, from quality of care to other issues. The board can’t control how the VA operates. That would require fixing Washington and no board in L.A. can do that. But the board can provide a voice and manage the use of the land.

And really, that is what veterans are asking for here. A voice. A seat at the table. It is the only way we can fix the long term issues plaguing the VA.