“The price of freedom is not free,” says the telephone voice recording at the Sepulveda VA. Neither is lunch anymore for the volunteers who do a lot of the heavy lifting at the North Hills facility without getting paid a dime. They show up to work two or three days a week answering phones, running errands and taking nonambulatory vets to medical appointments because they care about the men and women who rely on the VA for their health care and recreation. VA facilities all over this country would come to a grinding halt without the volunteers – many of them retired veterans themselves – who give 10 hours a week or more to the hospitals and clinics simply because it’s the right thing to do. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2That’s why many of our local volunteers were rightfully surprised and upset a few weeks ago when word came down that because of budget cuts, the $4.50 lunch ticket that volunteers were given after working four hours a day was being discontinued. From now on, the volunteers would have to pay for their own lunch in the cafeteria or bring one from home. The VA’s so strapped for money it can’t afford the price of a submarine sandwich for its volunteers. “Believe me, none of us are working here for a free lunch, but it just seems kind of cheap for the VA to try and save a few bucks a day on volunteers who don’t cost them a dime to begin with,” said one longtime volunteer, who requested that her name not be used for fear of reprisal. She’s right. It is cheap, and I let the VA know about it last week. I was asked by a VA public-affairs official not to write anything yet because VA Director Chuck Dorman was re-evaluating the decision. I said they had the weekend to make a decision, and sure enough on Monday I was told that Dorman had, indeed, reinstated the free lunch program. I figured no harm, no foul. On Tuesday, I began hearing from the volunteers. Yeah, the $4.50 meal ticket was back, but more than 95 percent of the 200-or-so volunteers there were not eligible for one anymore because they didn’t work enough free hours. Dorman had raised the minimum day to be eligible for a free lunch from four to six hours – almost a full day’s work. And to ensure that the hours were actually being worked, volunteers had to clock in and out for a job they weren’t getting paid for. Nice touch. Calls to the VA’s public-affairs department Thursday to talk to Dorman about why he upped the ante for a free lunch were not returned. “Most of us work four or five hours a day, two or three days a week, so we’re not eligible,” said another volunteer who also did not want his name used. The VA public-affairs department prohibits any of its employees or volunteers from talking to the media without getting approval. Thankfully, many of the rank and file doing the actual work think the public has a right to know what’s going on at this government facility without first getting the stamp of approval from the VA brass. We’re not talking national security here. We’re talking about a free lunch and making sure our veterans get the quality care they deserve. “Maybe one out of 50 volunteers works over six hours a day, so in reality we didn’t get the lunch ticket back,” the volunteer said. “It should be like it was before, four hours.” To be fair, some people were abusing the free lunch program, other volunteers said. “Some volunteers would work an hour or two, get their free lunch ticket, then go home,” said one volunteer. “It wasn’t right, but the VA shouldn’t take it out on the bulk of us putting in our four and five hours a day.” No, it shouldn’t. It stinks – makes the VA seem ungrateful to its volunteers. If these people weren’t so committed to the veterans they’re serving, they’d tell the VA brass what they could do with that free lunch ticket by not volunteering anymore. But they’re too classy and dedicated for that. “We’re not going to leave the vets,” said another volunteer. “We’ll just bring a sack lunch from home instead.” And let the VA save the cost of a submarine sandwich. Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. [email protected] (818) 713-3749160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!