It may come as no surprise that after having put their lives at risk while serving their country at war, American military veterans may need some help transitioning back into society upon their return home.
The toll of war can impact the mental state of returning veterans and lead them to substance abuse involving alcohol and drugs. Organizations such as New Directions, based at the Veterans Administration Building on Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood, have recognized the difficult situations many returning veterans face and have worked to provide various services to those in need.
New Directions, a long-term drug and alcohol treatment program for veterans founded in 1992, provides services such as job training and placement, parenting and money management classes, legal and financial assistance, counseling and remedial education. According to the organization, participants are able to leave the program with a job, housing, a savings account, computer skills and a renewed self-confidence.
New Directions has established service facilities in Los Angeles communities such as Mar Vista and is now proposing a new interim housing facility in Del Rey primarily for veterans returning from the Iraq War.
After New Directions first presented plans for a two-story facility in the 4300 block of Westlawn Avenue, west of Centinela Avenue in Del Rey, at a Del Rey Neighborhood Council meeting in February, the Neighborhood Council voted overwhelmingly to support the proposal March 13th.
“We voted for the veterans,” said Neighborhood Council president Mark Redick, who added that the decision was the “right way to go.”
“These guys and gals coming back need our hand and our help and we are not going to turn our back on them,” he said.
Redick referred to the challenging situations many returning veterans from the Vietnam War faced and the way they were treated, calling it a “national disgrace.”
“Here in Del Rey, we weren’t going to repeat that,” Redick vowed.
Del Rey Neighborhood Council member Renae Paonessa, who represents Area C and lives near the proposed location of the housing facility, also expressed support for providing needed services to the war veterans.
“These people served our country and are trying to get back into our society and we need to give them some place to stay,” Paonessa said. “We feel this is something that really needs to be done.”
When the interim housing proposal was first presented last month, some residents of the area expressed concerns and said that the applicant should have received more input from the community before moving forward with the plans. Residents were concerned about the facility’s location in a neighborhood of single-family homes with children and added that it could impact the property values in the area.
Others also argued that the facility would have an impact on parking and noise in the neighborhood.
Paonessa acknowledged that she understood the residents’ concerns but noted that the housing facility will be monitored throughout the day with security and staff and will have set rules, including a curfew. The Los Angeles Police Department has received no reports of problems occurring at two other New Direc- tions facilities in Mar Vista, Paonessa said.
Redick pointed out that the proposed facility is for temporary housing to allow the returning veterans enough time to receive services to help them reacclimate to society. A number of the concerned residents gave their support to the project after New Directions offered to work with the community to address any concerns, Redick said.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl said representatives from his office were involved with the housing proposal from the beginning and worked with the Del Rey neighbors and Neighborhood Council on the issue.
“There was a significant amount of public interaction on the issue and I’m delighted that the residents saw (the facility) for what it is,” said Rosendahl.
A Vietnam-era veteran who served in the U.S. Army and counseled returning troups as a psychiatric social worker, Rosendahl said he is pleased that Del Rey “stepped up to the plate” for the service facility.
Toni Reinis, New Directions executive director, had not returned phone calls seeking comment on the proposed housing facility before Argonaut press time.