Our blog, 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.
Follow up: The San Diego City Council issued a continuance until later in July, giving the VA and Old Town Academy more time to reach an agreement. To watch the webcast of the meeting, click here.