A group of veterans is suing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, seeking permanent housing for thousands of homeless veterans on and around its West Los Angeles campus, according to court papers obtained Wednesday.
The 14 plaintiffs allege the VA has failed in its duty to provide housing and health care to veterans with disabilities, leaving nearly 3,500 veterans sleeping nightly on the streets of Los Angeles, according to the complaint.
VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes said in a statement provided to City News Service that ending veteran homelessness in Los Angeles and elsewhere is a priority for the department.
“Veteran homelessness in L.A. has decreased by 6% since 2020, and VA has provided more than 950 permanent housing placements to L.A. veterans during this calendar year,” he said.
“VA has also made available more than 130 new units of veteran housing in the Los Angeles community this year, with 700 more expected in 2023,” Hayes continued. “While we cannot comment on ongoing litigation, we at VA promise that we will not rest until every veteran has a good, safe, stable home in this country they fought to defend.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit say they suffer serious disabilities such as PTSD and traumatic brain injury. They seek to secure coordinated housing and health care services, including permanent supportive housing, for all unhoused veterans with disabilities in the region.
Without such housing, “veterans with serious disabilities cannot access desperately needed mental and physical treatment services to which they are entitled,” according to the complaint filed Tuesday in L.A. federal court.
“The worst part of war should not be coming home,” said Shad Meshad, founder and president of the National Veterans Foundation, among plaintiffs in the case.
“Each week our outreach team goes out to homeless encampments, working the meanest streets of Los Angeles, where we find large communities with vets embedded in them,” he said. “We see our brothers and sisters living in squalid conditions worse than I saw in Vietnam. You cannot ever come home if you are homeless. How is it that our city is the homeless veterans capital of the United States? I hope my government will choose to join, not resist, the warriors in arms in their last and most important fight of all — the struggle to survive and thrive.”
The suit, filed by Los Angeles-based law firms Public Counsel, the Inner City Law Center and others, also seeks a court order prohibiting the VA from using its 388-acre West Los Angeles property for any venture that does not primarily benefit veterans.
A 2011 lawsuit also addressed the land-use issue. Although the VA committed to construct 1,200 units of new permanent supportive housing — 770 of which should have been completed by now — virtually no such housing has been built as of this year, according to Public Counsel.
“The West Los Angeles VA has 388 acres of property which was donated and deeded to be a Home for Disabled Veterans in perpetuity,” said Rob Reynolds of the advocacy group AMVETS.
“The property operated as a home for veterans for nearly 80 years until the VA started illegally leasing out the land and letting the buildings fall into disrepair,” he said. “As a result, veterans are dying on our streets, and Los Angeles has become our nation’s capital for veterans’ homelessness. Over 4,000 veterans used to call the WLA VA home, and today in 2022, there are only 54 units of permanent housing on the entire property and an estimated 3,500 homeless veterans in Los Angeles.
“Housing construction is continually delayed, and construction projects’ unrelated to housing are prioritized first,” Reynolds continued. “Then to add insult to injury, the VA continues to illegally lease out land meant to house our veterans in defiance of the law. Enough is enough — too many veterans have needlessly died, and it’s time the VA operates lawfully to end veterans’ homelessness.”