A message from From Paul Rieckhoff:
IAVA is encouraged by Sec. McDonald’s commitment to repairing bridges with the veteran community and better understanding the profound failings of his department. While this summer’s VA scandal may have left the front pages of America’s newspapers, the need for accountability for those guilty of misconduct is still very real.
We are proud that five IAVA members attended today’s stakeholder meeting at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and brought with them solutions to improve the VA, including the need for practical policy guidelines to remove those responsible for mistreating veterans and their families. In addition, IAVA members communicated the need to bring the VA into the 21st Century by implementing technological updates within the system.
During his short tenure, Sec. McDonald has shown he is committed to changing the course of veteran health care, and IAVA is looking to him to guide his department out of its current crisis of leadership.
Some stats about California and Bay Area vets:
- One out of every eight IAVA member hails from California;
- More than 1.8 million veterans live in California, including 238,000 who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan;
- California’s unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans stands at 10.1 percent, well above the national average;
- More than 535,000 veterans are stuck in the VA backlog, including more than 19,806 in the San Francisco regional office;
- Oakland regional office, 54.6 percent of claims are backlogged, which is higher than the 48.3 percent national average; and,
- The average wait time in Oakland is 166 days, 13 days higher than the national average.
IAVA members at the VSO stakeholder meeting with Sec. McDonald included:
Kathryn Hedjasi, MA, MBA, LMFT, is a licensed mental health provider specializing in PTSD, substance abuse, domestic violence, self-harming, sex addiction, family counseling, and relational issues. Hedjasi has been in her field for 18 years, serving homeless and at-risk veterans. For the past 10 years, she has been the significant other of a Marine serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Her extensive professional and pro-bono work with veterans and their families, as well as the painful reintegration issues of her own mate and its destructive effects on their family, has made her even more passionate about veterans advocacy.
Andrew Lineham served in Persian Gulf on the John C. Stennis (CVN 74) as an Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Equipment as well as a Yeoman. After active duty, Lineham acquired a position with Veterans Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., as an intern, where he was able to help transitioning and transitioned veterans. Since 2012, Drew has been a member of the IAVA and is looking forward to taking a more proactive role in supporting and assisting the veteran community in the Bay Area.
Hector Moncada is a 100 percent service-connected Iraq war veteran who served in 2003 as a combat medic. He currently works for United Cerebral Palsy, managing social media and marketing. Moncada is also a full time student at the University of the Pacific, where he presides over the Student Veteran Organization. Hector has a true passion for veterans and issues concerning veterans and hopes to one day make advocating for veterans a full-time job.
Jeff Park is the California Field Outreach Coordinator at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Through his role, Jeff helps provide meaningful engagement opportunities for veterans and develops and deepens the existing veteran community in California. Park deployed with his California Army National Guard unit in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2007-08, where he served as an infantry company executive officer conducting convoy security missions. He is a graduate of the Army Infantry Officer Basic Course and the University of California, Berkeley, where he received his BA in political science.
Ann Weeby served in Iraq from 2003-04 leading convoys, building enemy prisoner of war camps, and supporting engineer missions as part of the Michigan Army National Guard. She has used the skills she learned in the military to help build strong communities by rebuilding parks, providing healthy school lunches to kids, and, in her current role, finding employment for low-income veterans. When she is not working with Goodwill of Silicon Valley’s veteran services, Weeby can be found serving on the San Francisco Veterans Affairs commission, attending Vets in Tech events, or supporting the Bay Area’s IAVA community.