The Oldest and Largest Veterans Home in the U.S.
The first building at the new Veteran’s Home was completed in 1883, but the wait for funding for equipment for the facility delayed the opening until April 1, 1884. The Home was to have been opened on April 16 (to correspond with the signing of the peace at Appomattox that ended the Civil War), but the date was moved up to April 1 to accommodate the first 13 members who showed up early.
A non-profit corporation (chartered by the State of California) owned and operated the Home. The official name was The Veteran’s Home and it was funded and operated by the Veteran’s Home Association in San Francisco. Original funding had come from western states Grand Army of the Republic Posts (GAR) and it was officially the state home for both California and Nevada. The GAR was a fraternal organization composed of Veterans of the Union Army (United States Army), Union Navy (U.S. Navy), Marines and the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service who served in the American Civil War.
THE STATE TAKES OVER
From the beginning, the Home received funding from both the state and federal governments. In 1896, the federal government decided that it would no longer pay allowances to privately operated soldier’s homes. To avoid losing badly needed federal funds, the Veterans’ Home Association in San Francisco sold the Home to the State of California for one 20-dollar gold piece.
At the time of the sale, the Home consisted of 910 acres of land and 55 buildings, as well as successful farms, dairy herd, hog farm and chicken ranch. When the State assumed control of the Home, the name was changed to “The Veterans Home of California”.
There were 800 members in 1900 when the State took control. The Home was still operated by the Veterans’ Home Association in San Francisco after the sale. Nearly all of the original organizational documents of the Home were lost in 1906 when the San Francisco office of the Veteran’s Home Association were destroyed in the earthquake and fire that devastated the city.
Between 1900 and 1919, the Home continued much as before the sale to the State, but the vitality seemed to have disappeared. The buildings were old and new structures were not built. The Home became very crowded.
World War I hero, Colonel Nelson M. Holderman, was appointed commandant of the Home in 1918. Changes were badly needed, and he began to make them. Civil War Veterans still controlled the Home and resented his demand for new buildings, new programs and major changes. “If those buildings were good enough for Civil War Veterans, they are good enough for any Veteran”, was a common comment at board meetings.
Colonel Holderman did not want a confrontation with the Civil War Veterans and resigned as commandant in 1921, but he said that he would be back. After the Home steadily declined for five more years and after the death of a few members of the board, he was reappointed commandant in 1926 and remained so until his death in 1953.
THE HOLDERMAN YEARS (1926 – 1953)
During his term as commandant, Colonel Holderman completely rebuilt the physical plant and he finally got the 500-bed hospital operational that the Home needed for years. The success of his programs owed much to his personal prestige. As either the first or second most decorated soldier of World War I he was a popular national hero. Newspapers, magazines and radio always found him to be a good story and he would use that fame and popularity to get what he wanted for the Home.
He never used his military prestige for personal gain, but never refused to put on his uniform and medals “one more time” for the Home (although he was personally very tired of both the uniform and the medals). Once while in Seattle, he was asked why he hadn’t worn the medals and he replied, “Sometimes I get tired of looking like a Christmas tree.” In any case, his dedication and constant work paid off for the Home.
ANOTHER TURNING POINT
In the 1970s, the Home faced another financial crisis. Decreased funding was having a degrading effect on facilities and staffing to the point that the future of the Home was in question. The California Department of Health Services and federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare were both threatening to withdraw certification from the Home. The California Legislature took action, approving a $100 million renovation master plan, reinforcing California’s 10-plus-year commitment to its Veterans.
THE HOME AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY
In 1999, the Veterans’ Home of California at Yountville was home to some 1,200 Veterans including almost 150 women Veterans and nearly 30 couples. The Home offers five certified levels of health care and a variety of social and therapeutic activities.
The Home’s annual budget is provided by the California general fund; the remainder by other sources including federal reimbursements and member fees. The Veterans’ Home of California Yountville continues to enjoy support from citizens, service clubs and Veterans organizations throughout the State. The Home is a focal point for service organizations, including The American Legion, AMVETS, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Disabled American Veterans, to name a few of the most active who represent thousands of Veterans throughout the State and make their presence felt at the Home.
(Source – Steve Janosco, California Department of Veterans Affairs, Sacramento)
CURRENT CONDITIONS OF THE HOME
The Little Hoover Commission (LHC), appointed by the California Governor and the California Legislature, published in their March 1, 2017 report “A New Approach to California’s Veterans Homes” critical infrastructural issues on the historic Yountville Veterans Home campus that pose a public safety risk to residents and others. On its first visit to the Yountville Veterans Home in November 2015, the LHC learned that deferred maintenance and infrastructure neglect at Yountville “has created an unsafe and undignified living environment for Veterans.” So appalled at what it learned and saw, the LHC wrote the Governor and Legislative Leaders, alerting them to serious deficiencies at the Yountville campus and calling for urgent maintenance repairs.
In their September 5, 2017 report, the LHC Chairman, Pedro Nava, stated “Despite rich amenities the Yountville Campus has to offer, the Veterans at the Yountville Home for too long have lived in decrepit buildings that, at times, put their health and safety at risk. Year after year, California devotes hundreds of thousands of dollars for deferred maintenance that patch, but do not solve, the Yountville Veteran’s Home’s significant infrastructure problems.”
On January 29,2019, the California State Auditor Elaine Howle provided the Governor and Legislative Leaders with a report requested by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. This audit report concerned the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet), the California Department of General Services (DGS) leases, and other third-party users of Veterans home properties. This report concluded that CalVet and DGS entered into lease agreements with third parties that are inconsistent with the homes’ best interests and allowed third parties to lease property for decades in violation of State laws. The report further stated that CalVet and DGS mismanaged the Veterans Home property in fact, neither department had developed criteria for determining whether a lease is in the best interests of a Veteran’s home.
The State Auditor’s report indicated that the Acting Administrator and Estate Property manager were dismissed for back-dating personal contracts and not paying rent on their State housing.
Prior to the hiring of the current Yountville Veterans Home Administrator, the last four Administrators/Deputy Administrators have been dismissed/fired for wrong-doing or incompetence.
Elder abuse charges filed by residents have been ignored with no resolution forthcoming from CalVet. During this same period, the Secretary of CalVet, Vito Imbasciani, who was sworn in as Secretary on September 28, 2015, and his deputies have not been held accountable for the deplorable living conditions at the Home nor have they been held accountable for their lack of response to elder abuse charges reported by Home Veteran-Members.
Veterans’ proposed on April 16, 2019, that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs take ownership of the majority acreage of the campus and build a new Federal Veterans Hospital to provide healthcare services to upwards of 50,000 Veterans residing in the neighboring five counties. The Yountville Veterans Home property is zoned “Public Facilities” and therefore would not need to be rezoned as a medical center.
Veteran’s also proposed to the Governor that CalVet needs to find new executive management, at all levels, in Sacramento and Yountville, which have the experience, work ethic and compassion to operate and provide oversight to the elderly Veteran-Members at Yountville.
A NEW BEGINNING
On October 7, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom announced the appointments of Lisa Peake and Stephanie Weaver as administrator and deputy administrator for the Veterans Home of California, Yountville.
Colonel Lisa Peake, U.S. Army, Retired, has been appointed administrator for the Veterans Home of California, Yountville. She held multiple positions at the California Military Department from 1996 to 2019, including commander for the Soldier Incentives and Assistance Center, command logistics officer and superintendent at the Stockton Combined Support Maintenance Shop, and battalion commander. Peake was a colonel at the U.S. Department of Defense, where she served as chief of staff in the Central Command area of responsibility, and as deputy director from 2015 to 2016. She is a member of the National Guard Association of the United States. Peake earned a Master of Science degree in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of La Verne.
Master Sergeant Stephanie Weaver, U.S. Army, Retired, has been appointed deputy administrator for the Veterans Home of California, Yountville. Weaver has been senior director of SAFE Veterans Treatment and Recovery. She held multiple positions at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, including budget team lead from 2017 to 2019, director of the Office of Program Analysis and Coordination from 2015 to 2017, public health advisor from 2014 to 2015 and National Guard liaison from 2010 to 2014. Weaver was a substance abuse prevention program manager for the California National Guard from 2003 to 2010. She earned a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Baltimore.
Veterans are hopeful that Ms. Peake and Ms. Weaver will bring a renewed approach to the management of the Home. With their extensive backgrounds in management and health care, Veterans are encouraged that they will provide the necessary leadership and dedication required to ensure the quality of life and care for the residents, not experienced at the Home since the Holderman years