VA’s Efforts to House Vets Complicated by Covid: Braverman Explains 

The row of tents outside the West L.A. VA became known as Veteran’s Row.
Photo: Samuel Braslow

West Los Angeles VA Medical Director Steven Braverman addressed members of the Ronald Reagan American Legion Post 283 on January 11 and was asked about his efforts to help homeless veterans.

A large encampment on a Brentwood street, in West Los Angeles, had garnered local and national attention. A string of tents, all flying the American flag, became known as Veteran’s Row. They were located outside the VA fence, and the encampment seemed to grow during Covid.

Finally, on November 1, 2021, the street was cleared. A VA Public Affairs officer said that “While the number of Veterans fluctuated over time, population in the encampment decreased from a high of 56 to 20 Veterans on the day the encampment was disbanded.”

Braverman had assured the Post 283 audience that a plan is in place and veterans are being helped with housing. Some of the housing is just now coming online and some is planned for the future.

Dr. Steven Braverman

Braverman, who served more than 29 years in the Army Medical Corp and whose military awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, and Iraq Campaign Medal, was appointed as the VA Medical Director in September 2019.

Six months later, in March 2020, L.A. County and City ordered the closure of bars, restaurants, schools, playgrounds, recreation centers and gyms because of Covid. (L.A. has only lifted its declaration of a state of emergency due to Covid on February 1, 2023, and the state will lift its Covid 19 State of Emergency on February 28, 2023.)

Braverman started CTRS (Care, Treatment and Rehabilitative Services) during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep homeless Veterans in a safe area to avoid outbreaks in encampments in the community.

CTRS is a low-barrier-to-entry outreach initiative that provided Veteran participants a safe, clean, designated tented/sheltered living area and regular access to critical medical, behavioral health, and housing services on the West Los Angeles campus.

During the Covid shutdown, encampments became widespread in Los Angeles. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough visited veterans on Los Angeles Skid Row in February 2021.

In April, a man was arrested for running over and killing a man living in a tent outside the VA campus.

Beginning in early August 2021, the VA, under Braverman, began meeting with homeless advocates and Veterans on San Vicente Boulevard in Brentwood about plans to connect encampment residents to interim and permanent housing.

In September, a veteran, trying to break up a fight between a quarrelling couple, died after being stabbed.

Denis McDonough

The next month, McDonough returned to L.A. this time to visit the veterans living in Veteran’s Row. Some living in the tents were vets who had served in Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam and the Gulf wars.

He ordered Los Angeles VA staff to find temporary housing for those veterans, and McDonough tasked the VA with getting another 500 veterans into transitional or permanent housing before the end of the 2021.

Many locals felt that former L.A. County Sheriff Villanueva was responsible for finally clearing the tents off the Brentwood streets and moving veterans onto the West L.A. VA campus.

But, a VA Public Affairs officer said it was “a joint effort between the VA, the Los Angeles Sheriff Department HOST (Homeless Outreach Services) team, community advocates, nonprofit volunteers and local governmental agencies, which all played a role.”

The CTRS that had been put in place during Covid provided a way for an initial low barrier entry opportunity for homeless Veterans. The program was effective for those vets who were not ready for other traditional programs and began helping them transition towards permanent housing.

All the Veterans who had been residents of the encampment were housed in a combination of CTRS, inpatient care, on-campus transitional housing, hotel voucher program, and permanent supportive housing – except for one Veteran who declined all options.

Some went into tiny homes on the VA campus. A Public Affairs officer said, that “Today there are about 140 tiny shelters on campus and about 100 Vets living in them.

“There are about 80 Veterans living in the New Directions Transitional Housing Facility in Building 116.” (The program works with veterans, who have substance abuse or incarceration issues.)

Additionally, in 2017, 54 units of permanent supportive housing for homeless Veterans opened in Building 209.

Now, 179 units of permanent supportive housing have just become available on the VA, and referrals and lease signings are underway for vets.

Public Affairs said that once all the housing is completed, via the VA Master Plan, there will be a minimum of 1,200 units or permanent supportive housing on the West L.A. Campus.

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