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Veterans say renowned rehab program is now a minefield of drug abuse

 June 10, 2022 at 12:44 PM PDT

S1: An eye opening investigation into a renowned rehab facility.
S2: It's like lighting up in a cancer ward.
S1: I'm Harrison Patino. Maureen CAVANAUGH and Jade Hyneman have the day off. This is KPBS Midday Edition. In our weekend preview. We have classical music , punk rock and lots of visual art.
S3: I talk about immigration , I talk about land. I talk about who belong and are also given the identity of being a native person through these brand prints.
S1: That's ahead on Midday Edition. First , the news. And I. New source investigation has found that a renowned rehab center in San Diego is facing widespread drug use on the campus and conditions there have become dangerous. I news investigative reporter Jill Castellano has the details.
S4: Veterans Village of San Diego started 40 years ago with former Marine Corps Lieutenant Jack Leon.
S5: I mean , the way I dealt with the war was to push it back with drugs and alcohol.
S4: After Lyon recovered from his addiction , he and four other Vietnam veterans created a safe space to discuss war , trauma and substance use , which eventually became Veterans Village. In 1990 , the nonprofit built a rehab center on Pacific Highway that remains there today. Former resident Heather Miller said her life completely changed when she came to the campus.
S2: I was not ready to be sober. I didn't know how to be sober. I had lost so much that I just didn't know.
S4: Even where.
S4: She graduated from the court in January. Granting your motion , I'd ask everybody.
S2: To please join.
S4: I follow the rules now. One of Miller's mentors at Veterans Village , Marilyn Cornell , said seeing success stories like that is why she came to work every day.
S2: And being able to see miracles happen every single. Day.
S6: Day.
S2: Watching people reclaim their lives with dignity and respect.
S4: But Cornell , the former clinical director of Veterans Village , said the rehab center has changed dramatically over the past few years as new leadership has pushed hard to fill beds. That's led to a major decline in the quality of treatment.
S2: There is a sense of gloom and doom. And morale.
S4: Was terrible. A new source has spoken with 44 people who have lived or worked at Veterans Village. One of their biggest concerns is a growing presence of drugs on the campus. They say employees are too busy to closely monitor their residence , which has made the environment unsafe. Here's Cornell again.
S2: You're not allowed to have it in the treatment center. You're not allowed to have drug.
S4: Sales going.
S2: On in the treatment center. It's like lighting up in a cancer ward.
S4: Veterans Village Leadership said drug use is not allowed inside the treatment center. The campus is carefully monitored and veterans are getting high quality care. Akilah Templeton , the CEO , said she cares deeply about serving the veteran community.
S6: And we want to do our part to end veteran homelessness. Some people might mistake that. As you know , the organization being more concerned about failing that. We are not concerned about going back. We're concerned about saving lives.
S4: In late April , a resident at Veterans Village died of a suspected fentanyl overdose and the DEA launched an investigation. Days later , the county probation department suddenly pulled eight people out of the rehab center because , quote , We believed it was in the client's best interest.
S6: Do people on campus think campus are safe ? No , absolutely not.
S4: That's Victoria Clauss , who's living at Veterans Village now. Her fellow resident , former Navy SEAL Nathaniel Roberti , overdosed at the treatment center in April. Roberti was on probation at the time , and now there's a warrant out for his arrest.
S2: So here's a guy.
S6: Trying to save his life.
S2: Having to get exposed to a substance.
S6: That now puts his own life at risk and may have to suffer. Legal.
S2: Legal.
S6: Consequences because obviously he couldn't clear campus.
S2: On drugs.
S4: Koya says she has other concerns , too , about the quality of food and sanitation in the treatment center. She even filed a complaint with a state health agency.
S4: A special place.
S2: And the men that establish it or.
S4: What we all call mavericks , those who spoke with a new source said they want Veterans Village to succeed and they hope leadership will listen to their concerns.
S1: Joining me now is a new source , investigative reporter Jill Castellano. Jill , welcome.
S4: Thank you.
S1: Veterans Village has a national reputation for its work. Its model has even been replicated.
S4: I mean , people love Veterans Village. It does all sorts of work for veterans. It also founded Stand Down , which is a three day event that happens every year. And it's been replicated in literally hundreds of cities and praised by presidents of the United States. It helps connect homeless veterans with services. Veterans Village offers addiction treatment , employment , housing , all sorts of sorts of services. And it's really a beloved organization.
S4: And the people who come there , they basically leave their lives behind. They come to this residential facility basically full time. And they're working through their addiction and trying to get to the point where they can have these coping mechanisms and these skills that help them commit to their recovery , commit to their sobriety , and stay away from drugs and alcohol and avoid relapse. Historically , it's been all veterans , but starting in 2018 , they opened up the campus to non veterans and non-veterans have been a growing part of the population there and that's among the concerns that have been described to me as this kind of drifting of the mission away from it being a veterans focused facility and to being a more general facility for the public.
S4: They were pretty consistent in describing drug use happening regularly on the campus , which is new. It didn't used to be that way. Some of the residents said it was really difficult for them to maintain their sobriety in those conditions that there were triggering situations for them. I talked to one resident who said he actually relapsed on heroin because his roommate snuck out in the middle of the night and brought it back onto the campus and was using it in his room. So the conditions were described as unfortunately pretty dangerous for the residents.
S1: The county probation department removed eight residents from Veterans Village in May after someone died.
S4: But I can say that there were a number of things that happened in the weeks leading up to that decision , including just days before they did that. There was a suspected fentanyl overdose death that happened on the campus. There were other overdoses happening at the campus address just around the same time. And the probation department , in addition to removing those eight residents , actually cut off referrals , which is something that I'm not familiar with. And nobody that I've spoken with had seen happen before , actually , you know , stopping sending people to the facility altogether. That situation is still under review , I believe.
S1: Well , Veterans Village has rules against drugs and alcohol in the facility.
S4: I've heard a few different explanations , but I think one of the one of the big things that's happened is there's a staffing shortage. So essentially there's not enough people to monitor the campus and to make sure that they can keep the environment free from drugs and alcohol. So one way or another , they managed to make , you know , get drugs onto the campus and use drugs without getting caught on some occasions.
S1: You say the conditions have deteriorated over the last few years.
S4: I think there's been a lot of changes over the past few years at Veterans Village , and I don't think everybody would look at all those changes as necessarily negatives. You know , I think the leadership of Veterans Village is very proud that they've enrolled people who have been historically excluded from services , people who , let's say , have greater physical or mental health needs. And that could be a really positive thing. But there's been a lot of other changes , too , like a push to enroll more people relative to the number of staff on the campus and that growing pressure to increase enrollment. At the same time that the staffing is low and the staffing shortage continued to develop , I think has created a lot of tension on the campus. And it's one of those driving factors that led to what we're seeing now.
S4: I know there are six open complaints with the state regarding Veterans Village right now and I don't have any details. But theoretically , if a Veterans Village was considered out of compliance to a large degree , there could be action taken against , you know , by the State Department of Health Care Services.
S4: They said , you know , there may be occasional drug use on the campus. We can't be perfect , but it is taken care of when it arises.
S1: I've been speaking with I news source , investigative reporter Jill Castellano. Jill , thank you.
S4: Thanks so much.
S1: To read my new sources , full investigation , go to our news source , dawg. A new source is an independently funded nonprofit partner of KPBS. You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Harrison Bertino , in for Maureen CAVANAUGH with Jay Heineman. And our weekend arts preview. We have plenty of visual art , outdoor classical music and some all ages punk rock. Joining me with all the details is KPBS arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans. Welcome , Julia.
S2: Hi , Harrison. Thanks for having me.
S1: Of course , the mainly Mozart All-Star Orchestra Festival kicks off tonight. Tell us about mainly Mozart and this festival. Right.
S2: Right. So mainly Mozart. They hold the distinction of being one of the first if not the first major arts group in the entire country to perform live music for an in-person audience during the pandemic. They held these really popular drive in performances at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. This was in July of 2020 , and last summer they adapted it to bring picnic style pod seating. They're continuing that with this summer's Outdoor All Star Festival that's held at the Surf Cup Sports Park in Delmar. So there are two concerts this weekend , and this is an orchestra full of principal musicians from orchestras around the country. And tonight at 730 is opening night. They're going to be playing Mozart's Clarinet Concerto , Beethoven's Symphony Number four as well. And then on Saturday , they will play Beethoven's Grosso Fuga , which is arranged for a string orchestra from the original quartet , and also Mozart's Piano Concerto Number 27 and Mozart's Jupiter Symphony number 41. The concerts continue on Tuesday , and next weekend they'll close things off on June 18th with Mozart's Requiem. The seating for this , the section eight pods are all sold out already , but for Section B , for $60 , for a pod of four tickets , that's still a relatively affordable way. You'll get this nice sunset picnic and then world class live music floating overhead and section because first come , first serve the general admission and you bring your own blankets or your chairs.
S1: And last week , a new exhibition opened at the La Hoya Historical Society called Voices from the Rez.
S2: And there's a wide variety of works here painting , sculpture , fashion , performance , art , even music and some writing. The artists were asked to write their own wall descriptions for the exhibition. In one of the pieces , this is by blues musician Tracy Lee Nelson. He took a bunch of guitar strings that he had saved from performances that were really significant to him. He played in a Super Bowl performance once , and then he fashioned them into that traditional Kulmiye style woven basket. One of the other artists in the show is Gerald Clarke , who has paintings , sculptures and then a series of branded prints there. They're made from these sculptural branding irons that he created with words like immigrant , native and amnesia on them. And Clark said the series is all inspired by the last few years in America.
S3: You know , you can see how the paper is tarred and it's kind of a violent process. And I started doing that around 2016 because I saw in American society more and more violence and anger. You know , I talk about immigration , I talk about land , I talk about who belongs and also , you know , the identity of being a native person through these brand prints.
S2: So this exhibition will be on view through September 4th at the Loya Historical Society.
S1: And so another visual art exhibition is Echoes of Africa , which is on view at the Central Library's Art Gallery.
S2: And their work is set alongside and in conversation with a collection of African artifacts. This is from the Mesa College World Cultures Collection. This is all curated by Dr. Denise Rogers. The artists in this exhibition are really incredible. You can also see Andrea Cheng's work in the permanent collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in their new La Hoya campus. It's on view right now. And this exhibition , Echoes of Africa , will be on view through August 28th. And the gallery has slightly different hours from the main library. But this weekend it's open noon to five today and tomorrow.
S1: And I know you have some outdoor art recommendations as well.
S2: Yes , we have a few new parks , social installations or activations that are opening up this weekend. This is the city of San Diego's new Public Art in Public Parks Initiative. I'll tell you about one of them. This is artist Keenan Hart Easton's Honeycomb Harmonies. And I love this because it's kind of a part of the canon. Where we don't get a ton of arts events. This is a Scripps Ranch Community Park. This is a big playground that he has set up within a honeycomb shape. With these interactive sculptures , there's chalk to draw with community sourced writings and then these huge handmade painted xylophones and percussion instruments. This will all be set up to play with in any way from 2 to 6 p.m. on Saturday and through the rest of the summer. This exhibition will float around various other parks in Scripps Ranch.
S1: And finally , some rock music in an all ages venue. Tell us about the show On Your Radar at Public Square in La mesa.
S2: So , yeah , this is a show of two local bands and two touring bands. I've had these locals on my radar for a while now. They're both young bands. They're in fluorescents and Rain on Fridays. They'll be playing with Cosmic Kitten and then Sunday crews who are touring in support of their new album. I Should Have Stayed Home , which is excellent and also an excellent title. The show Saturday , the doors open at six and the show kicks off at 8:00. The Influences brand new album , Remember What I Look Like that just came out today on the Kill Rock Stars label , so this will kind of be an album release celebration for them. I'll leave you with Board Game , which is the album's closing ballad , and the Influence will also be playing a free show at Vinyl Junkies record shop earlier in the afternoon , tomorrow at 5:00 in your little Ford.
S1: You can find the details of these and more arts events at KPBS Sawgrass and be sure to sign up for Julia's weekly KPBS Arts newsletter. I've been speaking with KPBS arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans. Thanks , Julia.
S2: Thank you , Harrison. Have a good weekend.
S1: You too.
S6: Do you think ? Feelings are just.

An inewsource investigation finds that a renowned rehab center in San Diego is facing widespread drug use on its campus, and conditions there have become dangerous. Plus, this weekend in San Diego plenty of visual art to choose from, outdoor classical music and some all-ages punk rock.