Opinion Editorial

The VA's homeless failure

A federal judge made the right decision when he ruled last week that the Department of Veterans Affairs had misused its West Los Angeles campus by leasing land to the private Brentwood School, a hotel laundry service, UCLA (for the use of Jackie Robinson Stadium by the UCLA baseball team) and a soccer club, among other entities. The VA is authorized by Congress to enter into agreements to share land or facilities with organizations that provide healthcare for veterans. The VA had argued that it used the revenue generated by leasing land to help fund its programs, but District Judge S. James Otero voided nine active lease agreements, covering about 20% of the VA's 387-acre campus, ruling that they did not directly involve healthcare.

The lawsuit in which Otero ruled was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of several severely disabled homeless veterans and the Vietnam Veterans of America. Its aim was not only to void the leases but also to compel the VA to provide permanent supportive housing to veterans. Unfortunately, the judge dismissed that issue early in the case.

But the reality is that the more serious transgression by the VA is not the leasing of its property but its shameful lack of housing and support for the 6,300 homeless veterans in Los Angeles County — the largest concentration of homeless veterans in the U.S. This is the perfect time for the VA to rectify that.

The judge has stayed enforcement of his order so the federal government, on behalf of the VA, can appeal it. But rather than pursuing the case, we would like to see the plaintiffs and the VA reach a negotiated resolution that satisfies all parties and provides housing and support services for homeless veterans, particularly those who are severely disabled with post-traumatic stress disorder or brain injuries or both. There are buildings on the VA's campus that could be re-purposed and retrofitted for these needs.

"The objective of this litigation was to end homelessness among veterans," ACLU attorney Mark Rosenbaum said. That's quite a ways off. But it's up the VA to show it is committed to that effort now.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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