Veterans with a gripe upend Stars and Stripes

This is one battle that will probably be decided by whichever side is most "distressed" -- officials of the VA Medical Center in West Los Angeles, or a group of protesting veterans.

On Sunday, demonstrators plan to gather by the VA grounds and display an upside-down American flag "as a signal of dire distress." They contend that agency policies have placed the VA property in "extreme danger."

But if that act upsets VA officials, protesters could find themselves facing off with federal police, who view the upended banner as a sign of disrespect to Old Glory.

For 66 consecutive Sundays, a group calling itself the Veterans Revolution has demonstrated outside the Wilshire Boulevard medical facility. The group has, for many years, criticized VA oversight of the 388-acre property.

However, for the first time last Sunday, the protesters flew the Stars and Stripes upside down as part of their campaign. VA police responded with flashing red and blue lights and ordered that the flags be turned right side up or removed.

The faceoff occurred at the end of the planned protest, so veterans "removed them just as we normally do and left peacefully on our own accord," said Robert Rosebrock, one of the organizers.

"The Flag Code allows when property is in danger to display the flag upside down. It states it is a signal of dire distress to 'life or property,' " he said.

The demonstrators were on a city-owned sidewalk near Wilshire and San Vicente boulevards, outside of the VA's jurisdiction, said Rosebrock, a 67-year-old U.S. Army veteran.

But the protesters entered federal property when they attached one upside-down flag to a ceremonial gate, insists Lynn Carrier, the medical center's associate director.

Carrier said she ordered police to the scene when she drove past and noticed another motorist shaking his fist angrily at the flag display. She said VA mental health patients inside the hospital grounds might also have been sensitive to "an inappropriate display on VA property."

The gate on which one of the American flags was attached "is unquestionably federal property," said Ralph Tillman, the VA's director of asset management for Los Angeles-area facilities.

Rosebrock said most passersby honked and waved in support of last weekend's protest.

He said demonstrators may return Sunday with more upside-down flags -- and perhaps an upright lawyer.


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