PD Editorial: Dying veterans shouldn’t face eviction

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With about 900 ex-soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines living in mission-style buildings on a bucolic 500-acre campus pressed against the east slope of the Mayacamas, the Veterans Home of California in Yountville is the largest facility of its kind in the United States.

A state website says the Yountville vets home, which opened in 1884, and seven sister facilities spanning the state from Redding to Chula Vista honor “the tremendous sacrifice California veterans have made and recognizes them for their noble service to our nation.”

Unless those noble veterans are terminally ill and want to exercise their rights under California’s aid-in-dying law.

Then they can expect an eviction notice, and maybe a cheery, “Thank you for your service.”

A state Department of Veterans Affairs regulation mandates the discharge of any veteran who intends to employ the assisted-suicide law that took effect in 2016. Why? To ensure the continued flow of federal funds.

“We would respectfully and compassionately assist them in transferring to a hospice, family home or other location,” June Iljana, the deputy secretary of the state agency, said in an email to Kaiser Health News.

It’s true that opinions of physician-assisted suicide vary widely, but the practice is legal in California.

The federal money in question isn’t an insubstantial sum — $68 million a year, or about 20 percent of the operating costs for the CalVet homes, which provide housing as well as medical care and rehabilitative services for retired and disabled veterans.

And a federal statute bars the use of U.S. government resources for physician-assisted death.

But the federal government has never stripped funding from a public veterans home because a resident ended his or her life. Neither has the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or any other federal agency indicated any intention to do so.

Common sense says the public outcry and political fallout from evicting a terminally ill veteran would give pause to the most unbending by-the-book bureaucrat.

Which may be why a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs told Kaiser Health News the choice is up to individual states.

Washington, another state with an assisted-suicide law, adopted a policy that allows veterans who intend to take their own lives with lethal medications to remain in public residences. At least one veteran has died in a state-run home using that law, according to a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs.

If California doesn’t want to take a risk, it has better options than threatening dying veterans with eviction. For one, it could seek assurance from the Department of Veterans Affairs that it wouldn’t impose sanctions. The state also could urge one or more of the state’s representatives in Congress to take up the issue (as several of them already have with state marijuana laws that contradict federal statutes).

We’ll give the last word to Ed Warren, the head of the Allied Council, a group representing residents at the Yountville Veterans Home.

“My point of view,” he said, “is that it is inhumane to expect people in the last stages of dying to go through the hullabaloo of leaving their homes.”

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