District Court Ruling
Today, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled in a 41- page decision that the Department of Veterans Affairs has an enforceable legal obligation to ensure that homeless individuals with severe mental disabilities can meaningfully access mental health and other services. In addition, the court ruled that Congress has made “crystal clear that [its] intention was to ensure that the [West Los Angeles VA Campus] was used primarily to benefit veterans.” The order by Judge James Otero denies most of the government’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought on behalf of eleven homeless L.A.-area veterans by the ACLU of Southern California; the Inner City Law Center; Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP; Arnold & Porter LLP; and Professors Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School and Gary Blasi of UCLA Law School.
“Judge Otero’s ruling denying the VA’s motion to dismiss marks the first time in the nation’s history that a federal court has held the VA responsible for assuring that severely mentally disabled veterans have access to housing and services that they can access the psychiatric and medical services they require to heal the wounds of war,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Chief Counsel for the ACLU/SC.
“The decision means that the VA campus in Los Angeles must be restored to its intended purpose to serve veterans, not house UCLA and private school baseball diamonds, dog parks and rental car lots. This is Veterans Day 2012, a decision that recognizes that we must come to the service of our veterans in their time of need, as they did in ours. Now we have reason to believe that the phrase ‘homeless veteran’ will become an American oxymoron.”
“This decision gives thousands of L.A.’s neediest vets the right to a fair and prompt trial to obtain the supportive housing they so desperately need,” said Ron Olson, of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP. “It shames each of us as a society that our Government allows those who fought for their country to sleep on the streets while it leases the property deeded for their care to businesses and recreation.”
“Tonight thousands of chronically homeless military veterans with PTSD and other severe mental disabilities will face a torrential rainstorm on the streets of Southern California,” said John Ulin of Arnold & Porter LLP. “Thanks to this afternoon’s brave and careful decision by the United States District Court, they will, at least, have an opportunity to convince the court to compel the Veterans Administration of Greater Los Angeles to do what it should have been doing all along – provide them with the housing and services they need to escape homelessness and use the West LA VA campus to house and serve veterans.”
“Judge Otero’s ruling gives homeless veterans their day in court to require the VA to use the West Los Angeles Campus to benefit veterans,” said Amos E. Hartson, chief counsel and director of legal services of Inner City Law Center.