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American Recovery and Reinvestment Act gives funds to recover economy

By Srbui Karapetian

Oct. 8, 2009 11:23 p.m.

Every year since 2007, Joan Waugh, a professor of U.S. history, takes her students on a field trip to the Los Angeles National Cemetery.

Since the cemetery is located on a hill within five minutes’ driving distance from UCLA, a few of her students carpool with her while others meet them on the hillside.

Together, the students walk across the cemetery, registering the headstones of every veteran.

The field trip is part of an undergraduate course titled “The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture,” which Waugh developed to commemorate the roughly 85,000 U.S. soldiers, among them 8,000 Civil War veterans, who sacrificed their lives fighting for their country, she said.

Recently, $1,408,200,000 in stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have been allocated to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to renovate national cemeteries like that in Westwood.

The funds will also be used to modernize infrastructure in medical centers all across the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Web site.

The recovery act was passed on Feb. 17 in an attempt to jump start the economy and address long-neglected fiscal, educational and energy-related challenges.

The West Los Angeles Health Care Center, located on Wilshire Boulevard across from the L.A. National Cemetery, is a branch of the VA Greater Los Angeles Health Care System and will also benefit from the act.

Both facilities are receiving a portion of the stimulus funds allocated to California, which include $91,965,774 to complete the 94 projects that are part of the state’s medical centers and veterans benefits programs, according to the Web site.

Three separate administrations constitute the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs: the Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefit Administration and the National Cemetery Administration, said VA spokesman Jim Benson.

The first of these administrations, the Veterans Health Administration, received $1 billion in funds through the recovery act for its more than 900 non-recurring maintenance projects in medical centers across the nation.

In the West L.A. medical center, these projects include utility system upgrades such as replacement of nurse call systems, retrofitting of steam piping and a sewer system for the main hospital building, and renovation of radiology and nuclear medicine, according to the VA Web site.

Student veteran Travis Lynn, a third-year mechanical engineering student, had heard about the possibility of federal stimulus money funding such renovation projects earlier this year but was not sure that such plans would come to fruition.

“I think such funding is very good, especially for the VA hospitals, which need to be maintained,” he said.

Lynn, who served in the Marine Corps for five years, recalled watching a news piece a few years ago that detailed the poor and unclean conditions in a hospital in Washington, D.C.

“Things like mold were found on walls, and this, in a hospital where we were sending our injured veterans,” he said.

Furthermore, most of these system upgrades in the West L.A. medical center will be geared toward developing renewable energy and energy efficiency in the hospital, according to the Web site.

Meanwhile, the Veterans Benefits Administration will use the $150 million in federal funds to employ approximately 1,500 claims processors, who will be trained to process veterans claims, said VA spokeswoman Josephine Schuda.

The National Cemetery Administration, on the other hand, received $50 million in funds to complete projects in the 128 cemeteries that it maintains across 39 states and Puerto Rico, Benson said.

In the L.A. National Cemetery specifically, about $4.5 million is dedicated to the construction of a utility vehicle, the cleaning and realignment of headstones and markers in grave sites, and renovations in the National Home for Disabled Veteran Soldiers Monument.

“The funds are necessary to make the L.A. National Cemetery a national shrine, so that all the grave sites are leveled and the headstones are clean and aligned,” said Cemetery Director Cynthia Nunez.

The cemetery’s national and spiritual value has prompted some UCLA history professors, including Waugh, to bring their students on field trips to the site, Nunez added.

Waugh plans to take her students on another field trip to the cemetery next Tuesday.

“We study the impact of the Civil War on American society today and we learn that it created a major change amongst Americans: It taught us to take care of our veterans ““ to pay their widows a stipend, to establish a national home for them and to help house and take care of them in hospitals,” she said.

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