Vets Locked Out


Vets Locked Out:  Even With a Judge’s Order, Hard to Get the Gate Unlocked at the West LA VA


 by Katharine Russ –

RUSS REPORT-On August 29 the Honorable S. James Otero ruled that nearly a dozen agreements entered into by the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) with entities and facilities on the West Los Angeles VA (WLAVA) campus are unauthorized by law and therefore void. (Valentini v. Shinseki)
Otero said in part, “The language of … is clear and unambiguous. The Disputed Agreements do not share space that is related to the provision of health-care.”
The Agreements Otero referred to are:
“The March 1, 2010 agreement with Brentwood Schools, and any amendments thereto; The March 17, 2000 agreement for laundry services, which was assigned to Sodexho Marriot Laundry Services on May 10, 2001, and any amendments thereto; The May 1, 2001 agreement with UC Regents, and any amendments thereto; The August 10, 2006 agreement with Twentieth Century Fox Television, and any amendments thereto; The August 24, 2007 agreement with Veterans Park Conservancy, and any amendments thereto; The August 6, 2010 agreement with Westside Breakers Soccer Club, and any amendments thereto; The July 15, 2002 agreement with Westside Services, LLC, and any amendments thereto; The July 6, 2006 agreement with TCM, LLC, and any amendments thereto; and the filming agreements which the DVA has entered into with various third parties at various times.”
The Brentwood School and the UC Regents wasted no time in filing a Motion to Vacate and re-litigate Otero’s order. Both claim, they “did not learn of the claim on which judgment was granted until after the Court’s order was issued.” … a  preposterous claim because Attorney Mark Rosenbaum at the ACLU gave both a copy of the original complaint in June 2011 and both failed to intervene at any time before or during the trial.
The August 24, 2007 agreement with Veterans Park Conservancy (VPC) has been THE bone of contention for years with veterans who have protested every Sunday at the Veterans Parkway & Gateway Plaza. The DVA illegally entered into a 20-year Enhanced Sharing Agreement (ESA) with VPC for the 16-acre park that VPC claims is for veterans. The agreement costs VPC $1.00 annually.
The gates to the park are padlocked and opened for other community events/ fundraisers to which veterans are not allowed. The grounds have been terribly neglected and are badly in need of watering.
VPC’s 2001 Parkway of American Banners” to honor victims of 9/11 at this location is now fraught with tattered flags and many are wound tightly around the light poles they are attached to.
The $2.5 Million dollar Rose Garden built in 2011 by VPC, through donations, to honor women veterans, is also horribly neglected. The wishing well and fountains do not work and are filled with plant debris. The rose plants need pruning and watering- many of the plants are dying. The covered patios are in disrepair and plant debris and weeds litter the garden. One of the gates to the garden was broken and the wall around the garden had many large cracks and gaping holes along the top border.
VPC claims veterans can sit in repose and to heal from their wounds at the Rose Garden but veterans say they are not allowed in the garden. The Rose Garden has been used for several VPC fundraisers and events that veterans were not invited to attend.
Congressman Henry Waxman, whose district encompasses the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration (WLAVA), is a known and staunch supporter of the VPC, along with U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, 3rd District, and a host of Councilmembers.
For 5 ½ years, a host of Veterans Service Organizations (VSO), Robert Rosebrock, President of the Old Veterans Guard, and hundreds of members from these organizations have asked for an investigation into these illicit dealings, (particularly the VPC agreement) via written letters to Waxman, Feinstein and Senator Barbara Boxer. None have ever received a response from the Senators or the Congressman. Veterans Affairs Secretary, Eric Shinseki, appointed in 2009, also received letters, as did President Barack Obama. Those letters drew no response either.
The Annenberg Foundation, and later the ACLU, sent several letters that also garnered no response.
The fact that 2014 is an election year might be the reason Waxman did finally respond, for the first time, to an email from Rosebrock in September. Rosebrock made it clear that inaction by Waxman or the Administration would be “an act of calculated defiance against the safety and well being of tens of thousands of homeless veterans in Los Angeles.”  Waxman declined to answer if he would renounce his support of the VPC based on Otero’s decision.
Three days after the exchange with Rosebrock, Waxman sent a letter to Shinseki on behalf of veterans.  His September 16th letter to Shinseki advised the Secretary that the sharing agreements at the WLAVA have been a contentious issue with veterans for years.
Waxman suggested, “Judge Otero’s decision was a stern rebuke of the VA’s interpretation of the “clear and unambiguous” language of the law. I believe the most constructive path the VA could take now would be to decline to spend resources on an appeal of the decision. I urge the VA instead to accept the decision as an opportunity to work to strengthen the programs that directly serve the needs of veterans on the West LA VA campus.”
Veterans across Los Angeles do not believe much will change at the WLAVA until the “hierarchy” at the campus changes.
The only beautifully maintained parcel of land on the entire campus is the 21-acre fenced and gated compound that sports a mansion situated on a manicured lawn and hidden from view by dozens of well cared for trees. It is the home (perk) of Donna M. Beitner (Director, VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System) also a named defendant in the lawsuit and the person responsible for the unauthorized agreements made at the WLAVA.
In its glory, the WLAVA campus was a beautiful campus where veterans actually lived and did heal from their wounds. It is the largest VA facility in the nation and should be maintained as a model for other VA hospitals and homes across the country. Shinseki and Beitner should give careful thought to using the resources they’ll expend for an appeal of Otero’s order or the funds gained from the unauthorized agreements to provide veterans with the care and shelter they have earned for their service to this country.

(Katharine Russ is an investigative reporter. She is a regular contributor to CityWatch and works with the United States Justice Foundation in defense of Veterans. Katharine Russ can be reached at: [email protected]

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