The poor condition of the Veterans Administration campus in West Los Angeles

UPDATE: My timing on this post was impeccable! One day later the National Trust for Historic Preservation came out with this study criticizing the VA for its poor stewardship of historic structures and campuses around the country. Of course, it's not just about architecture -- many of those buildings are used to care for our vets. 

I was in West Los Angeles during my lunch hour the other day and took a stroll through the sprawling campus with my camera. Here are a few shots along with some commentary:

 

Here is a building at the VA that looks like it was last painted seven or eight wars ago. (I think that gets us back to WWI or Spanish-American). I later learned that this is an old streetcar depot that was built in 1900 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Gee, glad to see it's being meticulously cared for.

 

Far too many buildings appear to be either shuttered, neglected or in disrepair. It makes me think that vets aren't super high on Congress' list.

 

One of the main buildings. Like everything else, it looks like it has seen better days. 

 

So...we have the money to ship people over to Mideast to get blown to bits but a basketball net at the VA when they get home? Nope. The campus does have a golf course although I didn't see any vets walking around with their clubs. 

 

A piano that was apparently donated to the VA and now sits on an outdoor patio along with a tarp in case it rains.

 

While taking pics of the VA chapel that is closed -- vets can find God elsewhere, I suppose -- a VA employee in new silver Mercedes drove up and told me I'm not allowed to take photos of federal property without permission. Even though a parade of choice words was lining up in my brain in response, I was literally too flabbergasted to respond. 

This isn't a military base. Nor is it a courtroom. It's a campus dedicated to caring for our soldiers. And shooting the side of a dilapidated chapel is a far different thing than taking a camera into a doctor's office or waiting room. 

At home later, I went on the VA website where it explained that journalists need permission to shoot ahead of time because of patient privacy concerns. Okay, I get that. But it's a big campus and precluding photography also serves another dubious purpose: it discourages people from trying to show the poor -- a charitable word -- condition of much of the VA. 

Are the above great photos? Not really. The second one is decent, a few of the others are good ideas badly executed. I shot all of them within the space of an hour with my Nikon D5100 and 10-24mm wide angle lens. I didn't spend a lot of time composing shots or being artful -- I just shot what I saw and then processed quickly last night. The point of the exercise was to weave together images to try and tell a story. Easier said than done, people. 

Missing are a few photographs showing the sprawl of the place - it literally covers hundreds of acres on both sides of Wilshire Boulevard. More egregious is the absence of veterans in the photos. When you drive around, it's easy to see that the VA is likely the last resort for many of these men and women who served our country and now must rely on government healthcare. That's the story waiting for a talented photojournalist.

Go see the campus for yourself; it's Brentwood and Westwood adjacent, meaning it's next to some of Southern California's priciest real estate. Of course, respect patient privacy. Always. And bring a camera for everything else. It's your government and you have a right to take photos of it. 





--S.H.

The photos on this post are ©Steve Hymon 2013. Feel free to use the VA campus photos as you see fit. 


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