3 ways SoCal will benefit from boosts in Pentagon and VA budgets

A U.S. Navy flight crewman works in the cockpit of a U.S. Navy F/A-18.
A U.S. Navy flight crewman works in the cockpit of a U.S. Navy F/A-18.
Scott Nelson/Getty Images

After months of budget showdowns, President Trump signed a $1.3 trillion spending deal last week to keep the lights on through the end of the 2018 fiscal year, September 30th.

$700 billion has been allocated to Department of Defense funding, and $185.4 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs. It's the first time Pentagon spending levels have increased since 2011, when another budget fight resulted in strict spending caps.

Some of those dollars will likely be flowing toward Southern California through increased spending and programs.

Here's three ways the state will benefit:

#1: The Pentagon is ordering a lot of planes

The Southern California aerospace industry isn’t what it used to be. The C-17 was the last fixed-wing, manned aircraft to be fully assembled and delivered in the state, and the last one rolled off the Boeing line in Long Beach in 2015. 

But the Department of Defense now has six months to burn a $61 billion spending boost over 2017 levels, and its shopping list includes lots of military planes. And while entire planes are generally no longer made here, high-value parts like electronics and navigation systems are. 

President Trump announced the military will order up 90 F-35 joint strike fighters. Portions of the F-35, including the center fuselage, are already being made in Southern California. Ditto the Navy’s Super Hornet fighter--Trump said there would be 24 additional F/A-18s. That fuselage is built in El Segundo.

While it's known the secretive B-21 Stealth Bomber will be tested at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California, Northrup Grumman won’t yet confirm where it’s being assembled. 

“There are many California companies in the supply chain that support defense programs,” said Scott Thompson, the U.S. Aerospace and Defense leader with PricewaterhouseCoopers. “California has about the highest aerospace defense employment in the country.”

#2: There's help for veterans with “bad paper” discharges

Most servicemembers who separate from the military with other-than-honorable discharges, sometimes called “bad papers,” have historically been ineligible for VA care like mental health support and substance abuse treatment.

The military may hand down bad paper discharges for a range of behaviors, from felony-level convictions to misdemeanor-type offenses. It’s often the fate of troops that test positive for drugs while in the service, for example.

According to a report prepared by the Veterans Legal Clinic at Harvard Law, around 6.5% of post-9/11 veterans are denied VA services because they left the military without an honorable discharge. 

Veteran advocates in L.A. County say bad paper discharges represent a barrier to services and make former servicemembers more likely to fall into homelessness. There are over 4,800 homeless veterans in the county by last official count.

Some relief came last summer, when the VA announced it would begin providing 90 days of emergency mental healthcare to veterans without honorable discharges.

Congress has gone further, requiring the VA to provide mental health screenings to all military members separating with other than honorable discharges. 

“This is a big deal, and it’s way overdue,” said Dr. Jonathan Sherin, Director of the L.A. County Department of Mental Health. “It’s our duty and responsibility to provide care and support for individuals who are traumatized while serving our country.”

#3: More homeless veterans will get housing vouchers

HUD-VASH vouchers are part of a joint permanent supportive housing program provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs. HUD provides Section 8 rental assistance vouchers, while the VA supplements these with services, like a case manager to check up on the veteran and help navigate the process of connecting with healthcare or learning life skills.

The vouchers are aimed at chronically homeless veterans, who must also be eligible for VA healthcare.

The bill provides $40 million for additional HUD-VASH vouchers. The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimated that will translate to about 5,000 new vouchers.

“This is slightly less new funding than we’ve gotten in previous years, but nationally, the number of homeless veterans is going down. It’s a good figure,” said Nan Roman, the President and CEO of the NAEH. “The HUD-VASH vouchers are very effective.”

In Los Angeles, the homelessness crisis has worsened recently. Despite a major push by city and county leaders to house more veterans, Los Angeles County’s annual count indicated the unsheltered veteran population jumped 57% between 2016 and 2017.

One problem? “We are seeing some issues with placing veterans. Sometimes, they can’t find housing.” said Jesse Creed, Executive Director of Vets Advocacy in Los Angeles. HUD-VASH vouchers expire after a period of time. “We need to help veterans with housing placement and protect them from housing discrimination to bring those failures down.”