Screwing Our Vets Is an American Tradition

We have a long and proud history in this country of neglecting our veterans. It's a tradition that goes back as far as the Civil War, if not longer. In the last few decades though, that we've allowed the behavior to not only continue, but to be ratcheted up a few notches from simple neglect to abuse and predatory behavior. It's as if we're saying, "Hell, they've been shot at, lived in the dirt, been taken prisoner, and tortured. They can take it."

This week alone, there are glaring examples of how we treat our veterans. Steve Dibert over at MFI-Miami has a blog post up about how Deutsche Banks and Ocwen using forged notary stamps, duel tracking and other actions to take the home of a veteran dying of cancer. And then there's angry lunatic and radio host Michael Savage who went on a disgusting rant, calling vets with PTSD "weak." "narcissistic" and "losers."

Nice way to treat the folks that have risked their lives for you to have the right and freedom to talk about and treat them that way, isn't it?

Now, there are legal protections in place, such as the Service Members Civil Relief Act, that are supposed to provide active duty members of the military, and their families, with valuable consumer protection rights specific to their military status regardless of whether or not they are deployed. The SCRA was designed to protect them from things like eviction, foreclosure, debt collection on credit card accounts, taxes, among others. Despite this, banks and mortgage servicers still managed to foreclose on active duty service members, and that's while they're on duty. Coming home to "civilian life" is a whole other story.

The Washington City Paper ran a piece in 2011 about the Southeast Veterans Service Center, a three-story transitional housing facility in Washington, D.C.. The conditions were deplorable.

...conditions at the center leave much to be desired. His air conditioner didn't work for weeks during the hottest part of the summer. Bathroom facilities are filthy, the floors stained from toilet flooding and the shower curtains black with mold, and there's usually no soap or toilet paper. The center is supposed to serve two meals a day, but the continental breakfast started only recently, dinner is offered at irregular times, and sometimes supplies run out before all of the 98 residents who want food have eaten.

That's not an isolated incident. And things haven't gotten much better for veterans since then.

More than one million veterans are at risk of becoming homeless, while tens of thousands of former service members are already living without shelter, according to the Center For American Progress.

62,619 veterans were homeless on a single night in the United States in 2012 according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development's 2012 Annual Homeless Assessment Report. That's 13 percent of all homeless adults.

Anthony Mitchell, of Denver, was one of those homeless vets. Mitchell was a POW for six months and is permanently disabled after suffering a traumatic brain injury due to his overseas combat deployment.

Mitchell and his wife were homeless for over a year, living out of their car rather than having to sleep in separate shelters.

In 2011, they caught a break and moved into the Fourth Quarter Apartments, a complex of 36 units specifically for disabled veterans and their families. The rent was a little more than most facilities of this nature, because the building touted amenities such as on-site laundry facilities, secure entrance, common areas, handicap accessible restrooms, and "special facilities to meet the needs of veterans."

Sounds pretty good, right?

Fourth Quarter's management company, Burgwyn Residential Management Services, LLC are now the subject of a HUD complaint filed by Mitchell and 10 other disabled vets with the help of Lacefield and Coleman, LLC.

According to The Denver Post, Fourth Quarter Apartments receives a 20-year subsidy of $201,600 annually from a local non-profit. Additionally, according to a March 2014 Denver City Council meeting agenda, they could be receiving an additional $584,457 every year from the city of Denver.

Earlier this month, the tenants of Fourth Quarter Apartments, with the help of Lacefield and Coleman Fair Housing Advocates, LLC, a firm that helps homeowners and tenants with Fair Housing and Fair Lending complaints, filed multiple complaints with HUD against the property management company, Burgwyn Residential Management Services, LLC and property manager Jill Montgomery.

The complaints to HUD are a veritable list of what not to do when renting apartments -- much less renting to disabled vets.

According to the complaints:
  • The community room, one of the amenities that the tenants of the building pay for has been locked since September 2013. It includes a TV, pool table, microwave, coffee maker, vending machines, and furniture. Meanwhile, there is no legitimate security in the back of the property, according to accounts.
  • The handicap restroom in the common area is also locked. While it remains available for management and maintenance who have a key, the 36 disabled veterans are not allowed to use it, for what building manager Grace Burgwyn stated, "[The restroom] will never be open to you," and cited security reasons and insurance costs at a tenants meeting, according to several written accounts. This is particularly upsetting as many of the vets are on medication that causes them to need frequent access to these facilities.
  • Since 2013 there has been one working washing machine on the premises and many of the tenants have had to trek their laundry five blocks to a laundromat. According to multiple accounts the tenants were told that "maintenance is busy."
  • According to written accounts the stairway in the four-story building is locked and inaccessible to the residents, making it difficult to get to their homes if the elevator is occupied and impossible to escape in the event of an emergency.
  • On multiple occasions, according to the written accounts, maintenance crews have entered the residence unannounced and without the tenant's knowledge. They have damaged property on one occasion and on another occasion when they let themselves into the apartment one of the female tenants was exiting the shower. When this was brought to the attention of the property manager, Grace Burgwyn, her response, according to several written accounts, was, "We can enter your apartment whenever we like and if you don't like it you can leave."

And that's just a few of the items that went into the complaints to HUD, but by no means the most startling. Not long after getting his second floor two bedroom apartment at Fourth Quarter Apartments, Anthony Mitchell was asked to move to the fourth floor and given one day to do it -- or, as he was told by management, move out of the building. The fourth floor is referred to by the building managers as "The Black Four," referring to the floor and its inhabitants who are all African American. The new tenant of Mitchell's old second-floor apartment, was not surprisingly later occupied by a white veteran.

Soon after the complaints were filed and accepted by HUD, rather than try to rectify the situation, Jill Montgomery of Burgwyn Residential Management Services, went into full victim mode and vilified the disabled vets and Dr. Gary Lacefield. An email was sent to multiple residents accusing them of having committed slander against her. In addition she sent the tenants certified letters insinuating that the veterans were "tricked" into signing fair housing complaints and even included a pre-addressed envelope they could use to mail their written withdrawal of the complaints.

According to Dr. Lacefield, a similar, more accusatory telephone conversation took place between Dr. Lacefield and Henry Burgwyn, the owner of the property management company. Unfortunately for Jill Montgomery and Burgwyn Residential Management Services, this action constitutes retaliation, intimidation and harassment, so the original complaint was amended by Lacefield and Coleman Fair Housing Advocates, LLC and submitted to HUD.

As Lacefield puts it, "When I was in the military, I vowed to protect this country and its citizens from enemies both foreign and domestic. I think this applies."

Even prisoners of war are afforded a modicum of civility, dignity, and human rights under the Geneva Convention. Is it so unreasonable that we ask people who are housing our veterans to treat them with at least the same respect, rather than using them as cash cows and bilking the system for nearly $1 million a year in the process? After all they fought for our right to take advantage of those less fortunate and for our right to get rich doing it. The least anyone could do is make sure that they are taken care of as a small thanks for what they've sacrificed.

(Phone calls to Burgwyn Residential Management Services were not returned.)