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

Residents said they have struggled to stay sober in the face of widespread drug use inside the treatment center.

SAN DIEGO — A renowned drug and alcohol treatment program heralded as a national model for addressing veteran homelessness is now confronted with widespread drug use and unsafe living conditions that are harming vulnerable residents who come to the campus seeking help with their addiction.

Credit: Zoë Meyers | inewsource
The Veterans Village of San Diego campus is shown on June 3, 2022.

Following several overdoses, San Diego County probation officials took the unusual step last month of pulling clients out of the treatment center and cutting off referrals. The Drug Enforcement Administration is investigating a suspected fentanyl overdose death on the campus. And people who work with other institutions, including the San Diego VA and the county’s Veterans Treatment Court, have expressed concerns about the quality of care provided at the rehab program.

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Veterans Village of San Diego has provided counseling, employment, housing, and other services for more than 40 years, and it has been lauded by dignitaries and presidents for its approach to tackling addiction and homelessness. In 1988, it founded Stand Down, a multi-day event that connects homeless veterans with public services and community support. The event has been replicated in hundreds of cities, endorsed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and featured on “60 Minutes” and National Public Radio.

Employees, as well as residents themselves, have called on public officials and government agencies to address their growing concerns about Veterans Village. There are six complaints about the organization under review by the state health care department. Two lawsuits were filed last year, and two complaints were sent to the Veterans Affairs inspector general’s office in April.

Inewsource spoke with 44 people who have lived or worked at Veterans Village. Almost unanimously, they said they love and support the organization — they continue to believe in its mission and credited the institution with making “miracles” happen — but they are troubled by the conditions at the nonprofit’s flagship 224-bed treatment center on Pacific Highway.

To continue reading this story, click here. To read the full investigation, which has four parts, click here.

inewsource is a nonprofit, independently funded newsroom that produces impactful investigative and accountability journalism in San Diego County. Learn more at inewsource.org.

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