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Black veterans protest recent changes at West L.A. campus

WEST LOS ANGELES — African American military veterans gathered Oct. 11 to protest the unfair treatment they say they are receiving at the Veterans Administration campus here.

Their frustration follows the recent changes made to a post-traumatic stress disorder class offered by the Veterans Administration that many of the members had been attending for years.

“We came out here to demand that we keep the same level of therapeutic discussions and healings that have been in place for the past 20 years,” says C. Ezioku Washington, 73, who fought in Vietnam in 1969 and has been receiving counseling and treatment from the VA for more than a decade.

The start of the demonstration began in front of the VA’s 500 Building, but participants were advised to vacate the premises by Veterans Affairs law enforcement as a safety precaution and to avoid disruption of the medical aid being offered at the facility.

After moving their protest in front of the Federal Building on the corner of Veteran Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard, demonstrators continued to push their message.

“Veterans, we will not be denied,” the small group called out.

A black veteran complains about post-traumatic stress disorder treatment outside the Veterans Administration campus in West Los Angeles Oct. 11. (Photo by Sabir Majeed)

Washington explained that he has received positive results from the resources over the years, but is concerned not only about the changes that will impact him and his group members, but also future and emerging young veterans who will need similar treatment.

The group used to meet on Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and Wednesday from 1 to 2:30 p.m., but the program was changed after the longtime facilitator, Dr. Earl Gardner, was reassigned by the department.

“We’re concerned about the methodology that was changed,” Washington said. “Now they’re coming to change the methodology to be the way they scripted it to be. The Afghanistan and young Iraqi soldiers are coming back with a suicide rate of 21 a day and no one seems to be addressing it.”

The new class had its first session this week, but veterans are anxious about the prospect of their new doctor, Dr. Booker, not being able to connect as well with attendees as Dr. Gardner.

A largely influential part of their experience has been about Gardner’s ability to connect the class curriculum with the ethnic upbringing of patients.

“Different folks have come to our group and have talked about other groups not being the same, because it’s not Afro-centric,” Washington said.

The group hopes to have the same therapeutic needs being met with the new doctor.

“We have been here trying to let people that don’t know that as veterans we’re not being treated the way we should be treated and given the rights that should be afforded,” said Rueben A. Bakkar, 66, who is originally from Georgia.

Bakkar said that another portion of their unrest stems from the group being merged with another group suffering from schizophrenia and that they are treating the conditions as the same.

“They’re taking our program, removing our instructor and the room that we used and the same time,” he said. “They’re really just dismantling our program.”

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