Hey Mr. President, Can You Spare a Nickel?

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By Robert L. Rosebrock

Memo to President Obama:

On behalf of America’s Military Veterans, this is to respectfully ask for a very small share of the $825 billion dollar stimulus package that you are proposing to jump-start our nation’s lagging economy.

This modest request is consistent with the humble defenders of America’s freedom, as they rarely ask for much when equated to what they truly give. Comparatively speaking, this request amounts to less than a nickel’s worth of the entire stimulus package. That’s right, just a few pennies in relation to the grand scale of the hundreds of billions of dollars.

A Tough Pill to Swallow
Here’s the deal: Of the $825 billion package, Veterans would like to have a mere $5 million annually so that the VA Greater West Los Angeles Healthcare System (VAGWLAHS), will stop leasing the sacred land at the National Veterans Home for commercial use to help subsidize their own healthcare services.

     

Simply put, Congress intentionally under funds VAGWLAHS’s annual healthcare budget by about $5 million and then forces it to lease Veterans land and facilities to make up the difference. You may want to re-read that again because Veterans certainly consider this a tough pill to swallow.

Here are the Facts
The VAGWLAHS is the largest VA healthcare center in the nation with more than 1 million Veterans living within 50 miles and it serves more than 85,000 Veterans annually.

Congressman Henry Waxman, arguably the most powerful member of Congress, is the entrusted steward for this revered institution, situated in the middle of his 30th District that includes Malibu, Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica, Brentwood, Westwood, Bel-Air and Beverly Hills, which represent some of the wealthiest communities in the nation. 

So, you have the largest VA in the nation in the midst of the wealthiest ZIP codes in the nation overseen by one of the most powerful members of Congress, but he’s unable to raise a paltry $5 million so that Veterans hallowed land can remain as pure and noble as it was deeded on March 3, 1888 by John Percival Jones and Arcadia de Baker, “to be permanently maintained as a National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. Why is that?

Congressman Waxman’s Facts …
In a letter dated September 7, 2007, to the “Wall Street Journal,” Congressman Waxman stated that he has the facts about Veterans land and went on to declare: "The national soldier homes were for disabled and homeless war veterans."  He underscored this truth by confirming "the legal deed requires that the federal government maintain the property permanently for veterans."

His facts notwithstanding, and with the blessing of D.C.’s Department of Veterans Affairs and the Congressional delegation, the VAGWLAHS has executed long-term lease agreements that profit businesses and special interests while seriously violating the Deed of 1888 at the painful expense of America’s Veterans.

More Facts …
As part of this “pay to play” scheme, the VAGWLAHS leases 21 acres of Veterans land to Brentwood School, one of the most prestigious and expensive private schools in the nation with annual tuition nearing $30,000 per student. Still, the school pays less than $1,500 per month per acre for Veterans land for an athletic field that is off-limits to Veterans. Dirt farmers and sharecroppers would pay far more than that for this fertile ground, which was once farmed by Veterans themselves.

The VAGWLAHS has a long-term lease agreement with Richmark Entertainment Group, a Hollywood entertainment company to operate the Veterans’ Wadsworth and Brentwood theaters as a public cultural center to benefit and entertain the high muckety-muck in the neighboring communities, while everyday Veterans have no theater of their own. 

The VAGWLAHS leases numerous large buildings to UCLA for research and acres of land to Enterprise Car Rental for vehicle storage. It leases prime land and mineral rights to Breitburn Energy to operate an oil well with the royalties going to the Department of Interior. It leases a prime building to Marriott to operate a laundry facility for their hotels.  The list goes on and on and too numerous to list herein.

Adding Insult to Injury
As though leasing Veterans sacred land and facilities to the highest bidder isn’t insulting enough, the VAGWLAHS also has a no bid, long-term “sharing agreement” with a wealthy homeowners group in Brentwood, operating under the name of Veterans Park Conservancy (VPC), to build a 16-acre public community park, “rent free.”

On the other hand, a Meditation Garden for Veterans therapeutical rehabilitation remains padlocked because it’s “unsafe,” while being advertised as readily available 24/7 for leasing to the movie and television industry for location filming and events.

The VAGWLAHS donated $1 million of Veterans seriously need healthcare money to help VPC build a “majestic wrought iron fence” to beautify the entryway into Brentwood, while bus benches for Veterans were rotting and missing wooden slats. And the few wooden slats that were left had protruding bolts, which forced disabled Veterans to stand while waiting for a bus.

It Gets Worse …
Internet giant My Space, Inc., recently leased the Veterans Great Lawn for a public parking lot so that they could hold a corporate employee meeting at the Veterans Wadsworth Theater. 

This coming February 19, 20, 21 and 22, the GWLAVAHS has a special deal with the Rivera Country Club of Pacific Palisades to use the Veterans’ Great Lawn to park cars for their annual professional golf tournament. The massive influx of traffic with thousands of cars parking on this sacred land will create noise and congestion that is intolerable, compounded by a steady stream of luxury buses shuttling the tournament attendees back and forth. Plus, the pro golfers themselves park their private million-dollar RVs on Veterans land while homeless Veterans living in old campers and RV’s are forced to park anywhere they can on the streets of LA, hoping they will not be ticketed or towed away.

The Los Angeles Times has leased Veterans sacred land for massive business expos with hoards of commercial tents and display booths that make the average swap meet look like Rodeo Drive.

There are elaborate Hollywood movie premieres, carnival fund-raisers with Ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds and water slides, and other assortments of amusement and entertainment for the general public, all carried out in the name of raising money for Veterans healthcare services. 

This is all shamefully taking place while fellow Veterans are trying to rehabilitate and heal from war in what is supposed to be the safety and quietude of their own National Home. Equally troubling, another 20,000 fellow Veterans who are homeless are fending for their own safety on the dangerous streets of Los Angeles while several large buildings remain notoriously empty on this revered land. 

Mr. President, when it comes to bringing about “change we can believe in,” Veterans are trusting that this will be at the top of your list because the last two Administrations actually aided and abetted in this sleazy money-raising scheme.

Is a Nickel Too Much?
The abuse and misuse of this sacred land defies morality, good citizenship, common sense, respect and decency toward the very men and women who pledged their lives for the safety of all others. When they selflessly took the Oath to defend our freedom and democracy, each one wrote a blank check made payable to the people of the United States of America for an amount of, up to and including, his or her own life.

Mr. President, is a nickel too much to ask from our government to ensure that Veterans sacred land will no longer be prostituted to the highest bidder in order to subsidize their own healthcare services?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rosebrock is a U.S. Army Veteran of the Vietnam War-era, HQ USARHAW, Schofield Barracks. He is Co-Director of We the Veterans and Director of The Veterans Revolution, and a Member of the American Legion Press Association.

 

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U.S. Army, 1965-67, Schofield Barracks, Hqs., U.S Army, Hawaii. Director, The Veterans Revolution, Captain, the Old Veterans Guard, and Director, We the Veterans.