By Shirley Hawkins
WEST LOS ANGELES — The founder of a nonprofit organization that provides essential services to needy people from all walks of life treated veterans at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs complex to a pre-Veterans Day lunch Nov. 7.
Yuri Williams, founder and CEO of A Future Superhero and Friends, hosted the inaugural “Never Forget Our Veterans” event.
Dressed as a storm trooper from Star Wars, Williams brought along 50 volunteers to help spread camaraderie and cheer to homeless veterans.
In addition to a catered free lunch, veterans were treated to haircuts, facials, hygiene products and fruit snacks. Williams and other activists are incensed that the veterans who once lived at the soldier’s home at the VA are now dwelling in tents outside of the facility in what has been nicknamed Veterans Row.
Activists and veterans claim that the Department of Veterans Affairs that has served as the home for disabled veterans since the 19th century is violating the deed that decreed that the VA property remain the permanent home for disabled veterans.
“This land was donated in 1887 and deeded to become a soldier’s home in 1888 which it has been for 133 years,” said Robert Reynolds, who served in Iraq and is now a veteran’s advocate with AM Vets California. He added that the land is considered to be some of the most valuable property in the state.
“The Veteran’s Administration began commercially renting land on the 388-acre property to the nearby Brentwood School and to UCLA,” Reynolds said.
“The office of the inspector general conducted a federal audit in 2018 and found that 60% of the property is being improperly used,” he added. “A lot of the vets have benefits and they are health care eligible but they just don’t have housing and they don’t have anywhere else to go.”
Reynolds added that some of the veterans camping out on Veterans Row have been living in their tents for years and grapple with physical injuries, traumatic brain injuries, loss of limbs and post-traumatic stress disorder. Activists allege that since the 1970s, veterans have been systematically displaced from the Soldiers Home.
“It is shameful,” said Williams, who has staged similar events for the homeless who live in Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. “You would think that the city would do something for our veterans who willingly signed their names on the dotted line to protect and serve our country.”
James Bradley, a health care worker for 30 years who was a candidate for Congress in the 33rd Congressional District in the Nov. 3 election, said he was shocked at the treatment veterans are experiencing from the VA.
“I’ve been working with the homeless veterans for a year now and when I found out about the situation at the Veteran’s Administration soldiers home in Brentwood, I started working with Robert Reynolds and researcher Ryan Thompson to expose the crimes against our disabled veterans and the land that was deeded to them over 133 years ago.”
Bradley requested an investigation earlier this year into alleged crimes at the West Los Angeles VA that included land fraud, federal contempt of court, bribery, wrongful eviction, wrongful denial of services, conversion of assets, wrongful death, illegal inhumane neurological experiments and improper disposal of radioactive waste.
“I found out that the VA has closed down the buildings that used to hold over 5,000 disabled veterans,” he said.
According to veterans advocates, veterans housing on the property has dwindled down to 54 units and approximately 20 veterans are allowed to sleep in their cars overnight in the parking lot. A master plan to build 1,200 units of housing for veterans has been stalled.
Vietnam vet Alfred Areyan, 64, said, “they want to sell the land rights to the rich people and they’re also trying to get rid of Veterans Row because they say it’s disrupting the walkway. But basically they’re trying to get rid of our veterans because they want the land. There’s proof that there are a lot of shenanigans and corruption going on.”
“They’re leasing those buildings out to commercial entities on the property and those are illegal land leases,” Bradley said. “I’m a veteran and I feel that we must take care of those veterans that have given their lives for our country.”
He added that he has drafted a comprehensive program of rehabilitation and housing for the homeless population and pledges to “clean up the L. A. swamp” if he won his congressional campaign, but he lost to Democratic incumbent Ted Lieu in the Nov. 3 election, receiving 32.3% percent of the vote.
Reynolds and Bradley recently called attention to the plight of the veterans when they rented a bus and invited three dozen veterans to accompany them to the nearby FBI building in West Los Angeles.
When they arrived, the two handed over documents to an FBI agent that details the treatment of homeless veterans by the VA.
The trip was captured by a film crew that was given a grant from HBO and is documenting the plight of veterans to air at a later date.
As he greeted vets at the veteran’s event, Williams noticed that a number of veterans were barefoot. He reached into his bag and handed a brand new pair of tennis shoes to one of the shoeless veterans.
Surveying a row of grey tents draped with American flags, Williams said, “I do this on my own time. I don’t care about money or material items. I care about people and just making it a better day for anyone I come in contact with.
“I know these veterans are dealing with a lot of emotional and physical stress and I just wanted to help make their day a little brighter.”
A Future Superhero and Friends website is www.afuturesuperhero.org. Williams also can be reached by email at AFutureSuperHero@gmail.com.