Alcohol slowly progressed into a necessity for Samantha Bloomer, she said.
“My sister died in June 2021 from the same disease, and that still—even in my head I didn’t want to drink—but that compulsion and the obsessive behavior continued with it, and I drank to avoid the pain,” Bloomer said.
The Orcutt native spent 10 years in the U.S. Army and is a combat veteran who was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I just felt like a robot. I felt numb, or I felt stressed and anxious and I wanted to feel numb, and it helped my drinking develop,” she said.
In 2015, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) got her a spot in a treatment facility in Vista del Mar, where she was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. Her sobriety didn’t last, and she went to another treatment center in Malibu twice with similar results. In August 2022, she went to Legacy Village—a 12-bed substance use disorder treatment facility in Nipomo that’s exclusively for veterans.
“The group therapy was intimate, counselors were attentive and always available to speak with,” Bloomer said. “I was always challenged with homework to write essays or write in a journal, and the main thing they did for me is they always told me I had potential.”
The private facility relies on VA referrals as one of its community care providers. The health care network was set up through the 2018 Mission Act to help veterans stay in their communities when they need health care. Because of how VA policy is written, the VA prioritized care to its mental health and treatment facility in West Los Angeles, stopping referrals to Legacy Village, and ultimately forcing the provider to shut its doors in October.
Bloomer and Legacy Village employees are now concerned for the safety of veterans seeking care without nearby access and having to face long wait times at the West Los Angeles treatment center.
“It was just devastating to know that future individuals suffering from addiction aren’t going to have a place to go that’s local and provides excellent services,” Bloomer said. “The foundation I built there and crafted instilled this strength to continue this journey into sobriety.”
Bloomer spent 111 days at the ranch, where the Legacy Village Team provided her with “all the tools necessary to maintain and sustain my sobriety,” she said. Being with other veterans made it easier for Bloomer to talk about her time overseas because they had shared experiences, she added.
“With some of that stuff it’s tough to talk with our families about. I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan and I never talked about it,” Bloomer said. “There, when we had down time we would talk about it, and that was stuff I wouldn’t even tell my psychologist about.”
Bloomer is now nine months sober, and Legacy Village helped her apply for the VA financial aid program. At Allan Hancock College, she’s workng toward receiving her associate degree in human services, addiction studies, and an associate degree in psychology in 2025 with the hopes of becoming an addiction counselor to help others.
“They motivated me to challenge myself to do that. I’m a 4.0 student; it’s just amazing to see where I came from,” Bloomer said.
Dennis Farmer opened Legacy Village in 2015 in Kern County, where it served as a drug and alcohol treatment center for the general public until 2019, when he narrowed his focus to just veterans, the founder of Legacy Village told the Sun.
“We found it to be extremely effective by focusing on one demographic,” Farmer said. “Post 9/11 veterans are not going to break down or open up in a setting they are in with the general public. They have that shared experience and it allows the barriers to come down where you can really start getting some work done.”
In 2020, Legacy Village moved to its 26-acre Nipomo Ranch and opened the 12-bed facility. Ten to 12 people would come in for residential treatment for 45 days or more depending on the severity of the diagnosis, and the staff would use a curriculum developed by Legacy Village that was specific to veterans.
“Last year, 62 percent of our veterans stayed sober at the one year mark. The national average is two out of 10—20 percent,” he said.
In April 2023, Farmer noticed a decline in referrals while the Legacy Village team was still getting calls from people up and down the Central Coast. The VA later told him that it was prioritizing care at the West Los Angeles Mental Health Residential Rehabilitation and Treatment Program—also known as the Domiciliary—and if the VA wasn’t able to give care at that location within 30 days, the patient would be sent to a community care provider.
“Even if they tout this -day wait time, what do [they] expect those veterans to do in the meantime? How many of these guys didn’t make the second appointment or didn’t complete the screening? Those numbers are not tracked, they are simply falling off the radar,” he said.
As referrals dropped, Farmer said he drained his personal savings to continue leasing the place and paying his employees, but the costs climbed rapidly, and Legacy was barely making enough to cover basic overhead with two clients.
“When our last graduate finished and we were empty, it was decision time, because not only did I not have enough to put back into it, but was it a good idea to put more into it—especially since we haven’t heard back from the VA,” Farmer said.
Part of the Mission Act requires the VA to create new access standards for the community care program every three years, according to a letter that U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) sent to VA Secretary Denis McDonough.
The current standards allow veterans to receive community care if their drive time or wait time at their regional VA medical center exceeds 30 minutes, the letter stated.
“Unfortunately, residential SUD [substance use disorder] treatment was excluded from the designated access standards. This has created a massive barrier to getting veterans treatment for SUD who do not live next door to a VA Domiciliary,” Carbajal said in his letter.
Carbajal requested that the VA use its “existing authority” to establish drive time standards for residential substance use disorder treatment and ensure that existing wait time standards are applied when veterans are referred to other community providers.
“It is critical we make it easier for veterans to access SUD treatment, including at residential centers,” he said.
In early November, officials from Carbajal’s office plan to meet with VA Greater Los Angeles’ leadership team in SLO to discuss the policy as well as other related issues, a spokesperson from Carbajal’s office told the Sun.
“The congressman, while unable to be there in person now due to a change in House’s voting schedule, is hoping there can be a productive discussion about the steps necessary to preserve every possible care option in San Luis Obispo County for those suffering from substance abuse,” the spokesperson said via email.
Wallace Bonner, a VA Greater Los Angeles public affairs specialist, told the Sun in an email that the VA meets with stakeholders in all the communities it serves to discuss how “we can improve the delivery of the high quality, accessible care veterans have earned and deserve,” and they look forward to continuing the discussion with local leaders.
Reach Staff Writer Taylor O’Connor at [email protected].