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General News    H2'ed 10/31/12

Occupy the Department of Veterans Affairs battles it out with, V.A. and Sandy, vets win

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Braving Frankenstorm
Braving Frankenstorm
(Image by Cory Clark)
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Braving Frankenstorm by Cory Clark

The Small group of veterans and their supporters who have been encamped in front of the Department of Veterans Affairs at, 810 Vermont Ave,   in Washington, DC, just several hundred yards from the White House, have been battling it out with the with the V.A. since the beginning of October.

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Occupy the V.A. "We Just Want To Talk" by Cory Clark
The Department of Veterans Affairs has steadily been increasing its harassment of the group using nearly identical tactics as those used by Trinity Church Wall Street, in NYC.

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Don't Presure wash me Bro by Cory Clark

"Prior to the occupation the V.A. only pressure washed on Fridays and Mondays, since the veterans have arrived, they have pressure washed nearly every day," said Martha Guthrum, a native of the DC area, who walks by the V.A. every day on her way to work.

The V.A. has also used the Metro Police and DHS to enforce its harassment.

A Lt. Col. With DHS woke me up this morning with a collapsible baton held at his side as if he were going to hit me with it, I was scared for my life," Said Danielle Finger.

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Anarchist supporting Vets the best way they know how by Cory Clark
On Friday morning Bill Minutti, several supporters from Anarchist Alliance and the Occupy Movement, peacefully resisted authorities by getting in the way of V.A. maintenance workers trying to pressure wash.

"Last Night, I was looking at the Missing in Action flag, and we were taught never to leave a man behind, our Government has done that here," said Minutti. "There's no way you can understand unless you've been in war; we've left these guys behind, we've got to get them out of here."

Eighteen Veterans take their own life, on average, everyday according to the Department of Defense. These numbers don't include so called accidents such as those claimed to have occurred while cleaning weapons.

"I've been around guns most of my life, and so far as I know, there is no procedure in which someone can clean their weapon with a round in the chamber. You have to shove a long rod down the barrel. It just doesn't work that way," said Special Ed, a Vietnam veteran.

"This country sent these men and women to nasty little places, to do nasty little things, they want nothing to do with this government, these people out there on the street that will never go to the V.A. need a voice," said Minutti.  

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Never leave a man behind, the V.A. will do that by Cory Clark

DHS threatened to arrest individuals who refuse to move off of the side walk or stood in the shrubbery during the early morning pressure washing.

"What the charges would have been depends on the U.S. Attorney's Office," said Elliot Grollman, DHS Area Commander of the National Capital Region. "My goal is for them to move; they're going to power wash the sidewalks every day."

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Braving Frankenstorm by Cory Clark

However, intimidation from the V.A. was the least of the veterans' worries going into the new week as the so called FrankenStorm hit the eastern seaboard.

The Group began preparations immediately after a group meeting of veterans and supporters that included several veterans who were taking some needed R and R at a campsite in Maryland, via phone.

They acquired several military surplus, one man all weather sleeping units that included a sleeping bag and two outer shells, one of which was a Gortex, water proof, camouflage shell.

They also acquired Medical supplies, food, and other life essentials, during extreme conditions.

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Riding the storm, through the night by Cory Clark

Sunday afternoon, they put up a series of tarps to shield themselves from the rain and began sending those who they felt could not handle the extreme conditions, of 60 to 78 mile an hour winds, and freezing rain to shelters set up by the city, or to the Peace House located at 1233 12th Street, N.W., in Washington, DC.

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We're comfy, even in hell by Cory Clark

"These are extreme conditions, people could die out here and we are concerned for people safety, we only want vets and those people out here who are fit to endure Sandy, if you look like you going into hypothermia or you don't have the gear necessary to survive in these conditions, we want you some where safe," said Special Ed.

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Hey Sandy you Can't get us by Cory Clark

Among the already thinned out group, they took turns warming up in Special Ed's car or at a Hilton Hotel, two blocks from the V.A., on K Street, while those who were in good physical and emotional shape, took their watch under the tarps, under the awnings, in front of the doors of the V.A.

V.A. security personal stood inside the building just beyond the entrance watching these hardy men and women at various points during the night shaking their heads as they endured the worst of the storm.

Several times during the storm, people who knew about the protest came by to check on them and bring food and coffee as well as a package of hand warmers.

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For our brothers and sisters, we wont be moved by Cory Clark

"I'm tired of Americans who have "Support our troops' bumper stickers are their cars, but who do nothing to actually show their support, such as demand they get the services they were promised, the first sign I saw when I came out here was the one with the quote by Abraham Lincoln that says to care for those who gave it all, to care for their widows and orphaned children" said Danielle Finger of Philadelphia. 

"This is indicative of our resolve to stay out here under any and all conditions until the heads of the Department come out here and take care of these men and women who have given up everything for their country without complaint, even when their country wasn't being honest with the American people and sent them out to fight wars that violate Jus ad bellum," said Ray Voide, 52 a veteran of the Marine Corp.

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DHS is On Our Side Now by Cory Clark

In the morning after the worst of the storm had past the veterans and supporters many of which had returned from their places of safety helped maintenance worker clean up the mess left behind by Sandy.

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Post Storm Clean Up by Cory Clark

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V.A. Post Storm Clean Up by Cory Clark
DHS Area Commander, Lt. Col. Grollman and a number of other DHS officers came out in the early part of the afternoon to commend the veterans and show support and see if the veterans needed anything.

"As a veteran myself, as many of my men are as well, I understand what they're trying to do here, we all took an oath to protect the constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic, and that's what we want to do here is protect these men's right to say what they need to," said Grollman who served as a Military Police Officer.

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Surviving the Storm by Cory Clark

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We wont ever be moved, so don't bother spraying me Bro by Cory Clark
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Cory Clark is a freelance photojournalist and writer focused on civil and human rights issues, social justice and politics. He is a regular contributor with Getty Images, AP and AFP. His work has appeared in, The Guardian, Fortune (more...)

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