The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California recently made big news when it filed suit against the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for failing to provide military veterans with housing and care to which they are entitled at the VA’s West Los Angeles campus. Another lawsuit, which the ACLU previously filed (and won) on behalf of Vietnam veteran/activist Robert Rosebrock, has received much less attention. But it was Rosebrock’s case – and dogged protests – which led to the newer suit.
For over three years now, Rosebrock has organized a weekly demonstration outside the VA’s West Los Angeles gates. His argument – that the VA is misusing land which was donated exclusively for the care and permanent housing of disabled veterans – is a key part of the ACLU’s complaint. The earlier suit was a response to the VA police having violated Rosebrock’s First Amendment rights when it cited him for hanging the United States flag upside down (the sign of distress) on a VA fence. It is indeed illegal to hang any sign on VA property without permission, but the police objected only to the manner in which the flag was displayed. It was that selective enforcement of the law which ran afoul of the First Amendment.
Although Santa Monica City Councilmember Bobby Shriver and a few others have been screaming about the VA’s malfeasance for some time, Rosebrock’s arrest seems to have been the tipping point. With the ACLU fighting for his free speech rights, it was inevitable that the subject of Rosebrock’s protest would finally garner the recognition it deserves.
Likewise, now that the FBI is investigating a homicide which was apparently committed on VA property last month, the hope is that federal authorities will also investigate shady land use deals the VA made with various corporate entities. Because those privileged businesses provide veterans with no services, it seems inexplicable that they are operating on the West Los Angeles campus. Activists have for years been asking the VA to disclose the terms of its lease agreements, and to provide an accounting of how income has been allocated. That the flow of money remains shrouded in mystery, suggests VA officials might be the recipients of kickbacks from leaseholders. After all, one would be hard-pressed to find more valuable real estate anywhere in the United States.
Just as Rosebrock’s case prompted the ACLU to challenge the VA anew, the FBI should realize the VA’s failure to discover a decomposing corpse is symptomatic of a larger problem. Most people nowadays think of the FBI as a counter-terrorism force, but the agency receives substantial funding for combating public corruption and white-collar crime. Rep. Henry Waxman, Sen. Barbara Boxer, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and their congressional colleagues have all failed to hold the VA accountable for its misuse of land that was donated for housing veterans. In the meanwhile, an estimated 20,000 homeless veterans languish on the streets of Greater Los Angeles.
The time has come for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to launch a major investigation. While the FBI is in the midst of probing a homicide that VA police couldn’t even detect let alone investigate, the DOJ’s top crime-fighting agency should also find out who got paid to make sweetheart deals with tenants who do nothing for veterans.
This report was also published on The Veterans Project.
Jeff Norman is the Director of The Veterans Project, a non-profit group that promotes and supports organizations that help veterans – primarily those who fought in Iraq and/or Afghanistan – reintegrate into society when they come home. Its mission is to help remove the stigma associated with post-traumatic stress, and to raise operating funds for organizations providing psychological care and job training to veterans in the aftermath of war. He blogs at Citizen Jeff. He can be reached at email@example.com.