BARSTOW - He's already gotten two tie clips.

Jaime Todd, the new administrator at the Veterans Home of California in Barstow, has only been behind his desk a few days, but is already starting to feel at home.

"These are probably the coolest things," he said fumbling the military-themed clips, gifts from his fellow veterans at the home.

Todd took over at the veteran's home last week after Louis Koff, the home's administrator of three years, received a new post at a home under construction in Los Angeles. Todd, a Navy veteran himself, said he sought out the Barstow job out of impulse to help veterans.

"Just watching the wars that have been occurring over the last few years, the news and what was happening, I felt like I wasn't doing enough for veterans. I'm very proud to be here, and I just want to get as involved with the veterans as I can," he said. "So I think I'm where I belong."

Todd has been to the desert before. As an athlete at Rim of the World High School, he played sports against the Aztecs. From Sierra Madre, Todd was sworn in on Dec. 27 as Barstow's new administrator.

At his last job, Todd had to save a failing series of private retirement communities. He said the homes had lost a lot of money and had state and health regulators pushing them to comply with codes. Todd's job was to turn the communities around, bring them to a survival mode, he said. Even though he has those skills at his disposal, he does not think he will have to employ them at the Barstow home.

"It kind of pulls you out of the customer service element," Todd said of his last job. "Here I think I'll be able to do more customer service, more one to one with the veterans and their families and become more involved in the activities here in Barstow with the veterans."

As a corpsman in the Navy, Todd worked in a hospital with patients facing psychological problems after returning from combat. He said the duress and horrific images experienced in combat place a lot of veterans in line for life-long care. As the United States continues to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, the need for such care will grow, he said.

"World War I, World War II, Korea, all those wars, it is the same thing when you're out there fighting and bombs are landing, and bullets are going by your head - that's traumatizing, and it just seems now today its a different type of a warfare," he said. "Those guys face different issues than a normal person in society - more trauma, more death and destruction, and you can't gloss over that."

He said psychologically veterans face different issues.

"These guys come back from stuff that you will never be able to imagine," he said. "They need a lot of support and working in this type of organization you can focus all your effort on providing the counseling, the one on one support, and whatever they need."

Soon, the Barstow home will be able to administer the long-term care Todd sees as essential to veteran health. The Barstow home is set to reopen its skilled nursing wing in the coming months. The state closed the wing in 2003 after it the deaths of two residents in 2002 were attributed to negligence by the home's staff.

Todd said he is excited to oversee the reopening of the wing and is confident the home will not repeat the negligence that led to its closure. In the meantime, Todd said he is adjusting to the new surroundings, trying to meet all the residents and figuring out the new bureaucratic hurdles and miles of paper work associated with working for the government. He is also reliving some of his past days as a young Navy recruit.

"I feel like I'm serving - this isn't a job," he said.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4121 or aaron_aupperlee@link.freedom.com