How Rick Santorum Ripped Off American Veterans
A controversial land deal by the presidential candidate robbed a vets' home of tens of millions of dollars.
Like any good presidential candidate, Rick Santorum heaps praise on America's soldiers and veterans. He's pledged to "make veterans a high priority" if elected president, adding, "This is not a Republican issue, this is not a Democratic issue, it is an American issue." But as a US senator, Santorum engineered a controversial land deal that robbed the military's top veterans' home of tens of millions of dollars and worsened the deteriorating conditions at the facility.
The Armed Forces Retirement Home, which is run by the Department of Defense, bills itself as the "premier home for military retirees and veterans." The facility sprawls across 272 acres high on a hill in northern Washington, DC, near the Petworth neighborhood. The nearly 600 veterans who now live there enjoy panoramic views of the city—the Washington monument and US Capitol to the south, the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to the east. At its peak, more than 2,000 veterans of World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War lived at the Home.
But with the rise of the smaller all-volunteer military, the Home began to run into serious financial problems. It was clear that one of its primary sources of revenue—a 50-cent deduction from the paychecks of active-duty servicemembers—wasn't enough to keep the Home operating fully. In the 1990s, the Home scrambled to find ways to avoid insolvency, trimming its staff by 24 percent and reducing its vet population by 800. Still, the money problems began to show, with its older historic facilities slipping into disrepair and decay. To grapple with its worsening shortfall, officials running the Home eyed a valuable, 49-acre piece of land worth $49 million as a potential financial lifeline.
Under one scenario, by leasing the parcel of land and letting it be developed, the Home could pocket $105 million in income over 35 years for its trust fund, David Lacy, then-chairman of the Home's board of directors, told Congress in 1999. Lacy stressed that the Home wanted to keep the property, and not offload it to a buyer. "Once land is sold," he said, "it is lost forever as an asset."
Enter Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.). At the behest of the Roman Catholic Church, and unbeknownst to the Home, Santorum slipped an amendment into the 1999 National Defense Authorization Act handcuffing how the home could cash in on those 49 acres. The amendment forced the Home to sell—and not lease—the land to its next-door neighbor, the Catholic University of America. Ultimately, the Catholic Church bought 46 acres of the tract for $22 million. The Home lost the land for good, and by its own estimates, pocketed $27 million less than the land's value and $83 million less than what it could've made under the lease plan. Santorum's amendment sparked an outcry from veterans' groups and fellow US senators, who barraged his office with complaints.( Collapse )