Peggy Burgess (Dean Musgrove/Staff Photographer)
By Dennis McCarthy LA Daily News
Lester and Mary Gentry made a wonderful, magnanimous gesture to the San Fernando Valley 57 years ago. The couple donated 160 acres they owned in North Hills so the government could build a veterans hospital.
So many returning World War II and Korean War veterans were settling in the San Fernando Valley to work and raise families that it only made sense to have a nearby hospital and medical treatment and care facility for them. By 1993, with the Vietnam War adding to the caseload, more than 275,000 veterans a year were treated at Sepulveda VA. Then everything changed in 1994. We had a major earthquake.
VA officials claimed there had been too much damage done to the buildings. For safety’s sake, they would have to be torn down or left empty.
And since VA officials said it would be way too expensive to rebuild the damaged hospital, they essentially told vets to hit the 405 Freeway and take their serious medical problems to the West L.A. VA facility just a short two-hour, bumper-to-bumper drive away.
It was all a smokescreen, a chance for VA officials to save some money, downsize and gut Sepulveda.
The hospital was demolished and never rebuilt. Buildings were judged unsafe, yet today the same buildings are being rented out to movie and TV companies to film, including "Grey’s Anatomy" and "The Unit."
The VA makes millions every year renting the buildings out, but it can’t seem to find a dime to bring back lost medical services for our local veterans.
"I’ve got letters from producers that state clearly no production company would ever allow its cast and crew inside unsafe, unsound buildings," says Peggy Burgess, who is rapidly becoming a major thorn in the VA’s side.
"They sent in fire and safety inspectors. Everything’s perfectly safe."
Burgess, a member of the North Hills West Neighborhood Council, smelled a scam. In 2004, the retired businesswoman became the point person for nine other neighborhood councils and hundreds of angry vets drawing a line in the sand.
Enough is enough. Give us back our hospital.
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