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Veterans Village executive resigns after inewsource reporting

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Zoe Meyers
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inewsource
The Veterans Village of San Diego campus is shown on June 3, 2022.

The second highest ranking administrator at Veterans Village of San Diego has resigned weeks after inewsource started reporting on concerns about the nonprofit’s renowned rehab center.

Veterans Village officials would not discuss what prompted the departure but indicated that the resignation was part of “problems that would not ordinarily exist within VVSD” if it were not for the media attention.

inewsource’s June investigation described troubling accounts from more than 40 Veterans Village residents and staff about the nonprofit’s drug and alcohol treatment center on Pacific Highway. The investigation revealed widespread illegal drug use on the campus, a toxic workplace culture and hazardous living conditions.

The day the investigation published, Veterans Village fired an employee who spoke out about her concerns. Soon after, lawmaker Toni Atkins, California Senate President pro Tempore, shared that she was looking into allegations about Veterans Village. Some members of Congress also began to make inquiries.

Then, on July 6, inewsource reported that a Veterans Village client was allegedly killed by her neighbor, an incident that did not surprise staff who had worried about safety issues at the transitional housing program where the residents lived. The victim, Jennelle Self, had previously shared safety concerns with inewsource about the apartment complex, which is owned by Veterans Village.

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Tina O'Conno
Jennelle Self is shown in this undated photo. Tina O'Conno

Five days after that, Veterans Village leadership told employees that John Laidlaw, the nonprofit’s chief operating officer, “has stepped away from his position here at VVSD.”

Laidlaw is a clinical psychologist who started his job at Veterans Village in August. He also serves on the executive board for the county’s Mental Health Contractors Association and was the director of clinical services at North County Lifeline, which helps youth and families with behavioral health, domestic violence prevention and other needs.

“We wish him well in his future endeavors no matter where his journey takes him,” said the Veterans Village email from July 11. “Until we find a replacement, the departments will report directly to Akilah,” referring to Chief Executive Officer Akilah Templeton.

In response to questions about the resignation, Templeton provided a statement that described the effects of recent media coverage on Veterans Village.

“Your organization’s constant reporting citing sources who have hostile motives is extremely disruptive and is causing problems that would not ordinarily exist within VVSD,” the CEO said. “We respectfully request that you look inward to see exactly how this reporting could negatively impact our ability to stay focused on the VVSD mission, which is providing life-changing services to over 3,000 San Diego veterans every year.”

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Zoe Meyers
A garden at the Veterans Village of San Diego campus is shown on June 3, 2022

Veterans Village has provided rehab, employment and housing services for veterans in the San Diego region for four decades. Dignitaries have praised the institution for being a national leader in addressing veteran homelessness.

The nonprofit founded Stand Down, an annual event that connects veterans with social services and community support, which has been replicated in more than 200 cities and endorsed by the Veterans Administration. This year’s Stand Down is scheduled to take place July 29 - 31 at Roosevelt Middle School in Balboa Park.

Templeton said she could not comment on personnel matters but explained that the organization is conducting a broad search for a new COO.

“In the meantime, the VVSD executive team will work together to ensure continuity of operations across all VVSD programs for the veterans we serve,” the statement said.

Read the full statement here.