Theer’s a complicated backstory to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal to shut down a state veterans home in Barstow.
What goes around comes around.
One paragraph in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s revised, recession-hammered 2020-21 budget proposes to close a state veterans home in Barstow, to wit:
“The Barstow home was identified in the (Department of Veterans Affairs) master plan as not meeting most criteria for an ideal veterans home, including proximity to veterans populations, proximity to the federal Veterans Administration healthcare system, availability of health care service providers, presence of a local nursing program, and availability of a sizable local health care workforce. In light of statewide fiscal challenges, the May revision proposes to initiate the closure of the home.”
All of those criticisms are valid, particularly the home’s location many miles from major medical care facilities. For years, the home would load up a van with residents needing care at least once a day and drive them 80 miles to a hospital in Loma Linda.
Not surprisingly, Barstow became infamous for shoddy medical care and high death rates among its residents. In 2000, Tomas Alvarado, director of the state veterans agency, resigned after a doctor charged that department officials pressured him to change a report to say a 76-year-old veteran died of a heart attack, rather than choking. The doctor, Liem C. Vu, refused to change the report and was fired.
So, one might wonder, why did the state choose such a remote, impractical — and, one could add, bleak — location to open a home for impoverished veterans in 1996?
The answer: Pure pork barrel politics.
At the time the legislature approved the home, Democrat Steve Clute, a former Navy pilot, represented Barstow in the state Assembly, but the Inland Empire region was trending Republican and Democratic legislative leaders, especially Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, were worried that Clute’s seat could be flipped.
Setting up Clute as the leading proponent of a veterans home in Barstow and tying it to his military career were aimed at shoring up his local image as an effective legislator.
Clute’s career in the Legislature ended in 1992, however. His subsequent bids for congressional and legislative seats fell short and he eventually wound up in the criminal justice system after his wife, Pamela, a University of California, Riverside, mathematics professor, committed suicide in 2016.
She apparently suffered from chronic back pain and shot herself in the couple’s Palm Desert home.
“According to a 2017 arrest declaration, Clute called the police on Aug. 21, 2016, saying he’d found his wife with a gunshot wound in their Palm Desert home. During the 911 call, he told the dispatcher his wife suffered from severe pain due to a medical condition and wanted to end her life,” the Desert Sun newspaper reported.
“Clute said the gunshot woke him up, he found his wife’s body, and changed his clothes at least three times before calling the police,” the newspaper said.
Clute was charged with assisted suicide. “Steven said he had given Pamela the revolver as an option to end the pain she was going through based on a previous discussion they had about using the revolver as an option,” the arrest declaration read.
Clute pleaded guilty to felony aiding and abetting the negligent discharge of a firearm and was placed on probation with 500 hours of community service, but later a Riverside County judge reduced it to a misdemeanor.
The moral of this story: Making important decisions for purely political purposes serves no one’s interest, including, in this case, the politician it was supposed to help.