Vietnam Veterans of America
Membership Notes, January/February 2018
Veronika Fimbres: California’s Compassionate Candidate
Vietnam veterans are unafraid of long shots. VVA’s Veronika Fimbres is no exception. She’s running for governor of California. Most of her professional life has been spent nursing—a vocation that even precedes her stint as a Navy corpsman. The only political position she has had is as San Francisco Commissioner of Veterans’ Affairs, an office she held for more than fourteen years under three mayoral administrations.
Should she get elected, Fimbres will be the state’s first African-American governor and its first transgender governor.
Growing up in the Midwest, he started working as a nursing assistant at fifteen, and enlisted in the Navy in 1972 because “I’d never seen the waters.” Navy recruiters were anxious to sign him up because, they said, they had fallen short of their quota of African-Americans. So they guaranteed him—especially after he aced the tests—that he’d be a corpsman.
After basic training at Great Lakes, Fimbres shipped out to Balboa Naval Hospital. He was happy with his service, even though he was the only African-American in the unit.
“I could never understand a bias based on the color of one’s skin,” he said. Nonetheless, he endured the small-minded indignities, such as other sailors spiking his food with stool softener.
“I saved lives and worked at Balboa Naval Hospital,” he said, “showing leadership at seventeen by handling the orders of seven servicemembers and myself.” Later, “I served at Coronado Amphibious Base, where I worked at the clinic and saw Navy SEALs and their families.”
Life as a Navy corpsman suited Fimbres until 1973, when he was transferred to the Marines. “I was scared, and I went AWOL.” After he returned, he received non-judicial punishment.
At Camp Pendleton, Fimbres lived off base and worked in a MASH unit. “A lot of guys hit on me” for sex, he said. “Because I was soft-spoken and compassionate,” they mistakenly assumed he was gay.
Then, one day while walking the trails at Camp Pendelton, he was grabbed by a Marine, dragged into the woods, and gang-raped. That trauma—and the resultant PTSD—was exacerbated by the fact that he was too frightened and intimidated to report the assault.
Fimbres didn’t return to the Midwest, but eventually settled in California after discharge. She began the transgender process in 1978. She remained in the health care field, working in both the private sector and for the government, most notably as a mental health care nurse at the Palo Alto VAMC.
In June 2013, she married her partner, Randy Dolphin.
As Fimbres sensed the climate changing, she said, with the Me Too Movement and transsexuals garnering a lot of attention, she decided the time was right to run for governor.
“I’m pro-people,” she said.
As Commissioner, she says she concentrated on PTSD, homelessness, and hospice care. She has since changed her party affiliation and is a Green Party candidate. She is running on the party’s ten key values, which include the necessity that everyone must have a say in their governance; that there must be social justice and equal opportunity for all; and that we must function as a society that is part of—not apart from—nature.
She also advocates developing effective alternatives to violence, the decentralization of wealth and power, and the encouragement of community-based economics. She emphasizes gender equity, interpersonal responsibility, and honesty. Finally, she said, individuals must take both personal and global responsibility for the well-being of themselves, their communities, and the planet.
Fimbres’ candidacy is definitely a long shot. Both the mayors of San Francisco and Los Angeles are running to take the place of Gov. Jerry Brown, who is termed out. They bring with them big political machines and big money. And they are only the most prominent in a field of eighteen announced candidates.
Fimbres is relying exclusively on grassroots donations, and won’t accept money from Big Oil or other interest groups. She needed 7,000 signatures or $4,000 for a filing fee in order for her name to appear on the ballot.
From her military and nursing experience, she says, she has gained her strongest asset: “compassionate common sense.”
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