Homeless vets to get housing at L.A. VA site under settlement

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 28, 2015 9:38 PM

By Michael Fleeman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Homeless veterans will get housing and services at a large Department of Veterans Affairs health campus in Los Angeles under a deal to settle a lawsuit accusing the agency of misusing the land, officials said on Wednesday.

The 387-acre site located between the affluent Westwood and Brentwood neighborhoods was deeded to the United States in 1888 to give a home to disabled veterans.

The campus houses the nation's largest veterans health center, but the Department of Veterans Affairs long ago eliminated permanent housing for veterans there and it leased out portions of the property. That decision became a sore point for many veterans.

Under the agreement, the agency has agreed to work with the American Civil Liberties Union and the plaintiffs the group represents to help the estimated 4,200 homeless veterans in Los Angeles County.

The goal will be to provide temporary and permanent housing targeting homeless veterans, including older people, the severely disabled, and women.

"Our intention is to get those people in housing right away," said Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald at a news conference at the campus' health center.

But officials have until October to come up with a master plan for the site.

"We're moving forward together designing a plan to end homelessness among veterans in Los Angeles County," McDonald said. "We look forward to the campus being used in a more veteran-centric manner."

Under the agreement, the ACLU will drop its lawsuit filed in 2011 on behalf of veterans suffering post traumatic stress disorder and other disabilities alleging the agency's land deals violated federal law.

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"I'm damned glad to hear what I just heard from the secretary," plaintiff attorney Ron Olson said.

The actual number of housing units, among other issues, is still to be determined.

No estimated budget was announced for the initiative. A non-profit organization will be set up to help carry out the initiatives along with the government.         

The ACLU lawsuit listed several entities that have leased land on the site from the Department of Veterans Affairs. They include the University of California, Los Angeles, for its baseball field, a hotel laundry and a parking service. 

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Eric Walsh)