Effort to help veterans scarred by war scares La Crosse neighborhood

Talk is cheap and nowhere is it more inexpensive than La Crosse, Wis., where neighbors say they support veterans of the military.

They just don’t want them in their neighborhood.

The La Crosse Tribune says an attempt to locate a transitional housing facility for veterans in La Crosse has run into opposition from its neighbors after a couple donated their seven-bedroom, four-bathroom home to the Veterans Administration for the transitional housing arrangement.

“We are all in favor of our veterans. We have veterans living in our neighborhood. We’re very proud of them and thankful for their service,” neighbor Lesley Patterson told a Planning Commission meeting on Monday. “I don’t think that’s really the issue at hand, ultimately. Ultimately, the issue at hand is what’s going to be safe.”

Ultimately, the issue at hand for all of us is how big of a hypocrite are we willing to be?

Neighbors said they’re worried the veterans will have substance abuse and mental health issues, a not uncommon problem for people who’ve been sent off to war to kill people in the interest of protecting the freedom of the people of La Crosse to neglect them when they return.

Other neighbors listed a variety of smokescreen issues to mask their fear, including the impact of taking a home off the tax base.

City Council member David Marshall, a 35-year member of the U.S. Army tried to set the neighbors straight.

“I can tell you from experience that I have friends who are very embarrassed to come back damaged as they are. They didn’t choose that. They want to be whole again,” said Marshall, who has had eight active duty deployments.

“For six months, I have nightmares, I have flashbacks, I have issues. I thank my God that I have a wife who supports me, and I have a support system like no other. I can just imagine what it’d be like to not have that support system. This is the VA providing that support system,” he said.

He begged the residents to put aside their fear.

“What they need is normalcy. They need to feel a sense of belonging. They need a sense of being a part of something greater than themselves. That’s what drove them into the military to begin with,” Marshall said.

County supervisor Sharon Hampson also made a pitch for the home.

“These are veterans that have been damaged because they voluntarily went to wars, and I think we owe them the decency to let this program help them,” she said.

The planning commission unanimously voted to delay any action on the request until at least December to give the VA time to answer the concerns of the neighbors.

“It’s a very vital program. We’d love to be able to bring it to the La Crosse area, but we’d also like to be very respectful to our neighboring property owners,” a VA official said.

In La Crosse, that’s a one-way street.

Related: Marine Corps veteran’s family wants VA to learn from his suicide (MPR News)