Vets Sheltering in Place: Pup Tents in the VA’s Parking Lot

The VA’s motto comes from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “…to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”

A far cry from 25 pup tents erected in the West LA VA’s parking lot, wouldn’t you say? There are plans to expand this to 50 tents “—as needed—so they can wait out the COVID-19 crisis by sheltering in place and social distancing in their own tents,” according to Gale Holland of the Los Angeles Times (April 14).

Honestly, in a tent that small, what else is there but social distancing? Not to mention that they’re on the ground, which cuts out most disabled homeless vets. And not so easy for our older vets to use, either.

Even 50 small tents are small comfort when so many homeless vets are sleeping on sidewalks year-round, now at special risk in the Covid-19 crisis. In response, an outside group is erecting larger tents outside the VA property to shelter homeless vets. This when the VA has a staggering budget.

Originally, the West LA VA property was deeded to the federal government 100 years ago, specifically for disabled veterans. These days, the VA has plenty of tenants other than veterans: UCLA, 20th Century Fox, a private soccer club, laundry facilities for a hotel, a theatre, a private high school, a dog park and a Farmers Market. In a pinch I could make a case for the dog park and the Farmers Market and stretch that to include a theater. But the rest? Still?

This is a simmering battle that comes to a boil every Memorial Day and Veterans Day and then is largely forgotten. I blog about this frequently, but my voice and the voices of the older veterans who are leading the fight remain unheard and definitely unheeded.

It’s hard to continue talking about these things without getting angry. I don’t want to keep shaming the VA. Wait. Maybe that’s not possible…

And yet, those pup tents are an acknowledgment, however small, that homeless vets need to be housed. I wonder where the rents from those big tenants and private concerns are going. Doesn’t it seem to you that if they’re on Federal land deeded for disabled vets, that’s who should benefit from profits made from leasing?

What keeps the VA so stuck, so unable to act to affect real change? Help shine the light of public attention on the need for veteran housing. And not just during a major public health crisis. Acting only in crisis is acting always on the short-term.

This problem’s been with us since I left Vietnam in 1970. Fifty years in, we’re still dealing with it.

If you know a vet who needs help, here’s our Lifeline for Vets hotline: 888.777.4443

Shad Meshad

As a U.S. Army Medical Service Officer in Vietnam in 1970, Shad Meshad began pioneering treatment techniques for what would later become known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He is the founder of the National Veterans Foundation and founder and co-author of the VA’s Vet Center Program.

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