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At Memorial Day race, veterans run toward finish line and voting booth

Damian Bishop, right, said he'd like candidates to focus more on the Department of Veterans Affairs' disability claims process.
Damian Bishop, right, said he'd like candidates to focus more on the Department of Veterans Affairs' disability claims process.
Rebecca Plevin/KPCC

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Before she kicked off Monday's 5K run on the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs campus, race emcee and news anchor Christine Devine took roll call.

"Let me hear you from the Air Force," she said, as people cheered loudly. "Let me hear you from the Army — who served in the Army?"

About 1,000 people participated in the Memorial Day event, which benefits the nonprofit organization New Directions for Veterans.

Many of the veterans and veterans' family members in attendance told KPCC they also planned to make their voices heard next Tuesday in the state's primary election.

Among them was Ronald Cardenas Miranda, who served in the U.S. Army from 2010 to 2013. Today, he lives in housing provided by New Directions for Veterans. He said he knows he's lucky, as more than 4,000 veterans in Los Angeles County are homeless.

Cardenas said that when he goes to the polls next Tuesday housing for veterans will be a major issue for him.

"No veteran should definitely be homeless," said Cardenas, who wore camouflage and carried a silver helmet in his hands. "That’s a must."

Ronald Cardenas Miranda says housing for veterans is a major issue for him in this year's elections.
Ronald Cardenas Miranda says housing for veterans is a major issue for him in this year's elections.
Rebecca Plevin/KPCC

Damian Bishop, who served in the U.S. Navy between 2001 and 2004, said he would like candidates to focus more on the Department of Veterans Affairs' disability claims process.

"My claim [for a service-connected disability] was kicked out and dropped about eight times over 11 years," Bishop said. "There are guys that die before their claims come through."

Maria Riley said she would use her vote to push for better benefits and counseling for veterans. Her late husband served in the Marine Corps, as did her daughter and one of her sons. Another son is still in the Coast Guard.

Maria Riley says she will use her vote to push for better benefits and counseling for veterans.
Maria Riley says she will use her vote to push for better benefits and counseling for veterans.
Rebecca Plevin/KPCC

"We need to pay more attention to our veterans coming home from active duty, especially during wartime," said Riley, who wore a race finisher's medal around her neck. "What we're failing to realize is that they don't have a transition period, where they're allowed to transition into society."

Riley, who was born in Mexico, said she became a U.S. citizen a year ago, after living in this country for about 40 years. She said she finally has the opportunity to vote for policies that will affect her children and others who serve the country.

"I did it for one main reason: It's for the life that my children put on the line of duty," Riley said.

New Directions for Veterans provides housing and social services for homeless and at-risk veterans and their families. Last year, the group provided shelter and meals to more than 200 homeless veterans every day, and provided permanent supportive housing to 287 veterans.