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A smart step for the VA in West L.A.

 A smart step for the VA in West L.A.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) conducts a press conference to discuss a new plan, nearly 10 years in the making, to ensure the campus is adequately serving Los Angeles area veterans at the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Campus in Los Angeles on September 3, 2015. (Los Angeles Times)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) plans to introduce a bill this week that would give the Department of Veterans Affairs new authority to provide housing for homeless veterans on its sprawling West L.A. campus by building units or renovating existing ones. The VA has already agreed to an overhaul of the grounds that includes a new master plan — due next month — and supportive housing for homeless veterans. Feinstein's measure, the Los Angeles Homeless Veterans Leasing Act of 2015, would allow the VA to enter into leases with service providers and developers to create that housing.

The bill is a smart and necessary next step for the VA as it broadens the mission of its West LA facility to include housing with therapeutic services for homeless veterans, as well as to provide recreational and educational facilities for all vets. Supportive housing is desperately needed in Los Angeles County, with its more than 4,300 homeless veterans — the largest number in the nation. The VA committed to housing vets to help settle a lawsuit over leases the agency had granted on its West L.A. grounds that didn't help veterans directly. Feinstein's bill specifies that any new leases the VA enters into must "principally benefit veterans and their families."

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But it leaves unresolved some controversial issues about leases to two schools: UCLA, which built the Jackie Robinson Stadium for its baseball team on the grounds, and the private Brentwood School, which built a pool and tennis courts there.

The VA has the upper hand here; both schools desperately want to stay on the campus, and both could offer services that would significantly benefit veterans. The Brentwood School could welcome veterans to use its recreational facilities or conduct after-school classes for them. UCLA already has doctors at the hospital on the VA grounds, but VA officials have told UCLA that they need more specialists in such fields as trauma, addiction treatment and women's health. The VA has already put all of these issues on the table. That's a good start.

The focus here shouldn't be on UCLA or the Brentwood School; it should be on what's best for veterans. The VA has an opportunity to make sure that all its leaseholders provide the right amount of services to veterans, whether it's a home to live in or a pool to swim in.

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