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Homeless Veterans Activist Group Sends Resolution To President Obama

Michael Juliani |
November 20, 2012 | 5:40 p.m. PST

Assistant News Editor

A disabled homeless veteran in Los Angeles (Robert L. Rosebrock).
A disabled homeless veteran in Los Angeles (Robert L. Rosebrock).
For almost 250 straight Sundays, Robert Rosebrock and the Old Veterans Guard have protested at the Veterans Affairs grounds at the corner of Wilshire and San Vicente Blvd., asking that the VA give homeless veterans their due. 

Over the last five years, Rosebrock has led the Veterans Revolution, a group of mostly Vietnam War veterans who have pressured the VA and the United States government to recognize the plight of veterans in Los Angeles, the city with the highest population of homeless veterans.

Rosebrock, a 70-year-old Army veteran who did not see combat when he was drafted in 1965, witnessed how the VA services in West L.A. weren't helping the thousands of homeless veterans in the city.

"So many times it gets so frustrating you wanna quit but just can't, because I see so many of the homeless veterans, I talk to them, meet them," Rosebrock said over the phone.  "It's extremely sad to see that we can't take care of them in a very civil manner.  It's very inhumane, what's happening."

In 2009, Rosebrock was cited six times by federal police for attaching an upside-down American flag to the gate of the VA grounds.  The upside-down flag usually passes as a symbol of distress, but an associate director of the VA hospital ordered police to act because she considered it "a desecration of the flag" and worried that mental health patients would be upset by an "inappropriate display on VA property," according to the L.A. Times.

Rosebrock contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who filed and won a lawsuit on his behalf saying that the VA's actions violated his freedom of speech.  After investigating the VA more, the ACLU decided to file another lawsuit against the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs for misuse of Veterans property and mistreatment of disabled homeless Veterans.  If a settlement isn't reached, the case will go to trial in March. 

The Old Veterans Guard sent a letter to President Obama on November 14 asking him to declare a state of emergency for the homeless veterans in L.A.  The letter also asked that Obama stop the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorneys from "aggressively fighting" the ACLU lawsuit, since helping veterans "is not a legal challenge; it is a moral responsibility."

"It's still beyond us that the VA would be fighting us and the lawsuit the way they are," Rosebrock said.  "I think it's going to be very embarrassing for the government at some point in time.  That's why we kind of threw a bone to President Obama saying 'here, here's your chance.'  Otherwise it's going to get ugly and nasty, I'm afraid."

The VA grounds fall within Congressman Henry Waxman's district, and while Waxman was against the Vietnam War when it happened, Rosebrock said, the congressman has ignored veterans issues while in office.  Because the VA grounds are in a wealthy neighborhood, Waxman "answers to very powerful, wealthy constituents," Rosebrock said.

The Old Veterans Guard letter pinpointed specific ways the VA could better serve the dire needs of homeless veterans.  Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki recently pledged $20 million to convert a vacant, three-story building on the VA grounds into housing for "70 to 90" homeless veterans.

Rosebrock's letter showed that Building 209, as it's known, is a rat-infested, possibly asbestos-laden former psychiatric ward.  He quoted Dave Bayard, the VA's Regional Director of Public Relations, saying that Building 209 and other abandoned buildings on the grounds "are not places where someone could live, they're not safe seismically, they're not safe environmentally." 

The Old Veterans Guard Resolution letter asks that Building 209 be demolished and the $20 million be used to set up temporary housing and care for many more homeless vets than just the proposed 70 to 90.  The Resolution points to an 1888 deed that made it law that 600 acres of land be used "as a safe, sacred, and sovereign sanctuary for disabled and disadvantaged veterans."  

The Old Veterans Guard has about 15 core members, Rosebrock said, but receives support from large groups like the Vietnam Veterans of America.  "I'm considered a youngster at 70," Rosebrock said.  The Guard doesn't accept donations because they don't want to be swayed by donor expectations, Rosebrock said. 

Rosebrock is retired and spends his time working on the veterans causes, including the protests and writing articles for various websites.  He said he knows the activism the Old Veterans Guard does now serves to protect future veterans from the kind of negligence that Vietnam-era veterans faced. 

"When we're out there on the corner what's inspiring are the cars that drive by and honk, you get thumbs up, V for victory, fist pump, hand salute.  It's very inspiring if you have that support," he said.


Reach Assistant News Editor Michael Juliani here.



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