Homeless Veterans Activists Oppose Misuse Of Veterans Affairs Land
"Have you noticed that younger veterans are starting to become homeless/having a hard time because the VA isn't providing what they deserve?" I asked Robert Rosebrock in an email.
He answered: "Yes…I've come across younger Veterans living in their cars which is the next step to living on the street. Once this happens it becomes extremely difficult to survive…no phone, no car, no job…helpless."
With the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq came a fresh look at how the United States government assists combat veterans when they return to civilian life. With a modern perspective on the problem of post-traumatic stress disorder and controversies surrounding Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the plight of veterans snuck into mainstream media conversations.
But, Rosebrock said, the government's treatment of veterans continues to be a "national disgrace."
Rosebrock, a 70-year-old Vietnam War-era veteran, has led the Veterans Revolution for about five years. He has protested every Sunday at the Veterans Affairs grounds in West L.A. with the Old Veterans Guard, a group of other veterans who refuse to let another generation of soldiers be neglected by the government.
After I published an article last week that gave an introductory look at the Old Veterans Guard's grievances, Rosebrock has continued to send me files showing ways the VA property in West L.A. has been misused.
Rosebrock compiled a document that showed how Ralph Tillman, the director of asset management at the West L.A. VA, perpetuated the "national disgrace" that Rosebrock said is the misuse of VA land.
"While Veterans are trying to heal from the devastation of War," Rosebrock's document said," Mr. Tillman makes a mockery of their service by annually leasing their hallowed ground to the Hollywood entertainment industry for a 'Celebrity Carnival Fundraiser,' sponsored by Disney with the admission being $1,000+ per person, and those proceeds do not go to the benefit of America's Veterans."
Also, Rosebrock said, many veterans are unhappy with UCLA. Earlier this year the VA decided not to contract with UCLA to allow the university to refurbish Heroes Golf Course with $6 million. The UCLA golf team would have used the course for practice. Many veterans worried that the team would get priority use.
The Old Veterans Guard helped pressure the VA not to go through with the deal. When I tried to speak directly with UCLA's Veterans Resource Office about the university's dealings with the nearby VA I was referred to the campus media contacts, and a Facebook message I sent to one of the Veterans Resource coordinators hasn't been answered.
"I'm hoping to get your perspective on this," I wrote to Brendan Hancock, the coordinator, "especially since as a coordinator at UCLA you offer resources to younger veterans (I assume) who might face similar frustrations with the VA."
Almost 20,000 homeless veterans live on the streets of Los Angeles. Earlier this year, Congressman Henry Waxman, whose district includes VA property, agreed along with Senator Diane Feinstein and United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to a plan that would restore an abandoned building on VA grounds to house 70 to 90 homeless veterans.
The Old Veterans Guard reacted by sending a letter to President Obama asking that he declare a state of emergency for Los Angeles' homeless veterans. The letter also asked that instead of using money to restore the building, the VA should set up large-scale temporary housing so that more of the thousands of homeless veterans can get off the streets sooner.
Voicemails and emails to Rep. Waxman's press contacts were not returned Thursday.
(I get into more of the specifics of the Old Veterans Guard's letter to the president here.)
Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against the VA for what it deemed to be the misuse of veterans land. Though VA police had continually "harassed" the Old Veterans Guard during their protests outside VA property, Rosebrock said, it stopped once the ACLU filed its lawsuit.
Rosebrock sent me a file of photos showing VA police videotaping the protests and observing them from a short distance. Rosebrock said that since the police were outside the VA gates they were outside their jurisdiction.
"I send these photos to show how the VA spent more time harassing us with our peaceful and legal demonstration on the outside than dealing with the crime on the inside...which is why we protest," he said.
Reach Assistant News Editor Michael Juliani here.