Last week I mentioned there was an opportunity for those to voice their desire to have a public park within the Old Soldier’s Home green space. I received the following email from a consultant to the Home:
“I am usually reluctant to get involved in a neighborhood discussion but was startled and disturbed by a number of factual inaccuracies in the comments section of your blog concerning the Armed Forces Retirement Home. I am a consultant to the home.
It is important for neighbors to realize that this is not a zero-sum game. AFRH has been on that site for more than 150 years. It was located on farm land that was outside the confines of the District of Columbia at the time and existed long before the city neighborhood that now surrounds it.
The land was purchased with war booty from the Mexican American war and has been held in trust by the federal government for the exclusive benefit of military retirees and combat veterans since before the Civil War. The law is explicitly clear on this point. The land cannot just be given away for other purposes. It must be used for military veterans.
The Home needs revenue because it does not receive an annual appropriation. It relies upon a Trust Fund established with that war booty and replenished with contributions from active duty military. The Master Plan for development of one corner of the campus, the southeast corner, includes a large 22 acre public park. That development is approved but presently on hold until market conditions improve. The expectation is the neighborhood will have access to a truly lovely public park when development takes place.
There are NO plans to sell any of our land. There will be long term ground leases in the development approved by the National Capitol Planning Commission which is about 77 acres. There are also NO plans for development on the portion of the campus next to the Petworth and Parkview neighborhoods at this time. The residents use that land for a golf course and for recreational purposes. More than 1,000 residents live at the Home and “Mark” should know that every single young warrior disabled by combat injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan is technically eligible to live in our community. Our youngest resident, in fact, is only 47 and is a veteran of the Gulf War. We foresee generations of veterans who will need and deserve our services.
This a long way of saying we appreciate that some neighbors look at this campus and see trees, grass and a public park but, in fact, it is a home and community of and for veterans. This is their land; they are using it every day; and we fully expect American veterans to be using it for generations to come.
And one final point, public access to AFRH has been severely restricted for more than 40 years for security purposes. The average age of our residents is 80; the oldest is well over 100 years of age. We all understand the risks and dangers of living in the heart of a busy, vibrant city. If one of our elderly residents were to be mugged, he might die. Security is an enormously important concern to our residents who have been mugged many times just steps from our gate at the bus stop on Rock Creek Park Road. Neighbors need to have some appreciation of the vulnerability of a community of older men and women.”