Four homeless veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other disabilities today sued Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and the director of the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System for misusing the VA campus in West Los Angeles. They filed suit on behalf of hundreds of other severely disabled homeless veterans in the Los Angeles area. Vietnam Veterans of America joined the four individuals as plaintiff in the suit, which was filed in U.S District Court for the Central District of California.
The land on which the VA campus now sits was deeded to the United States in 1888 for the specific purpose of providing a home for disabled veterans, which it did for nearly 80 years. But the VA has eliminated permanent housing for disabled veterans, many of whom now literally sleep outside its walls, and it now leases portions of the property to private companies, such as a rental car business and Sodexho Marriott for a laundry facility. The VA has not publicly disclosed how much it is being paid for these private deals, which now cover almost 30 percent of the 387-acre campus, or where the money from them is going.
“War can take a serious toll, both physical and emotional, and it is shameful when our wounded warriors return home and are left to live on our streets,” said former Adjutant General of the California National Guard, Maj. General Paul Monroe. “California has an incredible campus that was given to the U.S. government to permanently house our disabled vets. It’s past time we stopped renting it out to private companies and started using it to house and care for those who have sacrificed so much for our country.”
“If they can house Enterprise Rent-A-Car, they can house our homeless veterans,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Chief Counsel of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. “This is VA-Gate, because the VA could quite literally end veteran homelessness in Los Angeles if this land were used as it was intended.”
The suit also contends that the VA’s benefits program discriminates against veterans with severe mental disabilities. A robust body of research has established that homeless individuals with severe mental disabilities cannot access necessary medical and mental services without stable living conditions combined with supportive treatment services. Although the VA has recognized the importance of such supportive housing for seriously disabled homeless veterans, it has refused to offer them to Plaintiffs and other disabled veterans in Los Angeles and around the country.
“This lawsuit exposes the truth of how the VA’s policies exclude veterans with serious mental disabilities,” said Melissa Tyner, a staff attorney with Inner City Law Center’s Homeless Veterans Project. “Rather than honoring their sacrifice, VA policies deny access to needed services. As a result, many veterans become homeless.”
Los Angeles is the capital of homeless veterans in the United States. There are an estimated 107,000 homeless veterans nationwide, and by conservative estimates 8,200 live in the Greater Los Angeles area.
“Four presidential administrations have continued to allow the injustice of encroaching on land deeded solely for the purpose of caring for our nation’s disabled veterans. This lawsuit gives us the opportunity to restore integrity to this bequest and allow many more homeless and disabled veterans to live out their years with dignity,” said John Rowan, National President, Vietnam Veterans of America. “If our nation’s laws are enforced, soldiers who risked their lives on the battlefield won’t be condemned to live in dumpsters or under freeways while land donated to house them is used instead to house a rental car company and a laundry facility for luxury hotels,” said Laurence Tribe, the Carl M. Loeb University Professor and Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School and the nation’s preeminent constitutional scholar.
A descendant of the family that donated the land to the government is also a plaintiff in the suit. Plaintiffs and their attorneys are also calling for congressional hearings to investigate the misuse of the West Los Angeles Campus and the VA’s failure to ensure its benefits programs are accessible to seriously disabled veterans.
In addition to the lawsuit, the Plaintiffs and their attorneys are calling for congressional hearings to investigate the misuse of the West Los Angeles Campus and the VA’s failure to ensure its benefits programs are accessible to seriously disabled veterans. The misuse of the West Los Angeles campus is documented in detail in a Position Paper issued in January 2011 by the Metabolic Studio, a direct charitable activity of the Annenberg Foundation led by artist Lauren Bon, entitled “Preserving a Home for Veterans.”
“The missing link to ensure disabled veterans are helped is on-campus supportive housing. That is what this lawsuit hopes to remedy,” said Ron Olson, of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP
Plaintiffs are represented by Laurence Tribe, a Harvard law professor; Ronald Olson, of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP; Arnold & Porter LLP; Inner City Law Center; Gary Blasi, a UCLA law professor; Massey & Gail LLP; and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.