Lawsuit by L.A. veterans moves forward

Washington DC/USA Mar 25 2019/Signboard of United States Department of Veterans Affairs(VA).The VA stands in front of Lafayette Square Park in the north of the White House.
Photo credit Getty Images

A lawsuit brought by a group of veterans against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, challenging land lease agreements and seeking permanent housing for thousands of homeless veterans on and around the VA's West Los Angeles campus may be heading to trial, according to court documents obtained Thursday.

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 November 2022 complaint.

In a tentative ruling this week, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter denied motions to dismiss portions of the class-action lawsuit dealing with leases for a private school's athletic facilities and a parking lot for the general public at the West Los Angeles campus.

Such land uses "are not designed to `principally benefit veterans and their families,' even if veterans marginally benefit from these agreements," Carter wrote.

A message to the VA for comment was not immediately answered.

When the suit was filed, Press Secretary Terrence Hayes told 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 in November.

"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 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 lodged 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 2022, according to Public Counsel.

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