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Yountville Veterans Home New Allied Council chair wins vets over quickly

Allied Council, a group that serves as a conduit between the home’s administration and its nearly 600 veteran residents.

 Jamie Neely, who worked as an artillery surveyor while serving in the Army in Germany in 1973, was elected earlier this year to serve as chair of the Yountville Veterans Home Allied Council.

Jamie Neely has lived at the Yountville Veterans Home for less than a year but already she has risen among the ranks to serve in its top member post.

The former Army service member was elected in March as chair of the home’s Allied Council, a group that serves as a conduit between the home’s administration and its nearly 600 veteran residents. She is the first woman to be elected to this position in the council’s history. 

“A day before the nominations [period ended], my friend encouraged me to throw my name in the hat,” said Neely, a native of Kansas City, Mo. “I decided to run for chair and my friend joked and said, ‘You're starting from the top’, and I responded, ‘I know.’”

The Allied Council is made up of 14 “delegates,” veterans who each represent the section or hall where they reside. They meet regularly, alongside Home Administrator Lisa Peake, to air concerns or discuss proposals aimed at improving some aspect of the veterans’ daily lives.

“As chair, I am like the conductor of an orchestra; it’s pretty fun,” Neely said. But it is also serious work. 

A priority project of the council is to provide backup batteries for use during power outages to operate medical equipment, such as CPAP machines. Many of the home’s residents rely on CPAP machines that help them breathe properly while sleeping.

“The machine pumps air so that you can sleep deeply like you normally should or otherwise your body is in a state of alert,” said Neely, adding that she is among those who use a CPAP.

When the power once went off in the middle of the night, Neely said she woke up gasping for air. This is an issue, she said, and it became a priority for the Allied Council.

Physical and mental health and wellness is near and dear to Neely’s heart – quite literally.

Having open heart surgery in 2016 prompted her to “take a very serious look at her life,” she said.

A year later, she came out as a transgender woman.

“I knew I was feminine for a long time,” she said, but fear of discrimination kept her silent all those years. “You couldn’t be trans and work at a job.”

Neely joined the Army at 17 at the urging of her mother. She served permanent duty in Germany in 1973 where she worked as an artillery surveyor managing weapons and ensuring accurate placement of the artillery.  

After being discharged in ’74, Neely came to California, moving from Los Angeles to Sacramento, working up and down the state in sales and other industries. She legally changed her name and gender in 2017. The transition was “so easy internally,” she recalled. She started taking estrogen and “I got these done. Aren’t they so amazing?” Neely joked, referring to her chest.

After retiring for medical reasons, Neely’s doctor suggested she try group living, which brought her to Yountville, site of the largest Veterans Home in the country spanning more than 600 hundred acres.  

“When I toured this place, I was like, this place is so lush; it was like a castle on a hill,” Neely said.

She had not lived in a group setting since her time in the Army but as soon as she moved in at the Veterans Home, she said, she loved it and she has never felt uncomfortable or unsafe. Not only are there many activities home residents can take part in, such as gaming, woodshop and arts and crafts, but the people are friendly and welcoming, said Neely, who added that she has built “amazing friendships” in just a short time.

It is those friendships that helped get her elected to chair of the Allied Council.

“I met Jamie after she had been on campus only a few months. After our initial conversations we soon felt like old friends,” said office manager Judy Brown. “Jamie dug down and found the courage to run for a very visible position on campus with only having been here a few months and being widely unknown. 

“That soon began to change” Brown continued. “Her authentic self, with a no BS attitude and an ultimate goal to do the right thing for all residents on campus, began to be seen by all that met her. She has made it clear that she does not want to listen to just gripes, she wants members to explore solutions.”

Gary Sloan, vice chair of the Allied Council said, “Jamie is very organized and good at delegating, which every leader should be. She is passionate, and I truly believe that she will be making the Allied Council more effective and very possibly the Home a better place for all the Veterans.”