Suit: VA misusing LA land meant for homeless vets

By JACOB ADELMAN | June 8, 2011 | 3:42 PM EDT

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A lawsuit announced Wednesday accuses the federal government of misusing a 390-acre plot of land in Los Angeles that was donated some 130 years ago to house veterans who need care after traumatic military experiences.

The suit alleged that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs leased much of the property at its West Los Angeles facility to private entities, instead of using it for veterans' permanent supportive housing. It was being filed by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and other public interest lawyers on behalf of disabled homeless veterans.

They accused the department of breach of fiduciary duty and were seeking an injunction forcing the department to use the property for the housing and care of wounded vets, among other demands.

The suit specifies four plaintiffs — three Iraq veterans and a woman who was raped while serving in the Army — who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments. It seeks class-action status.

"We bring suit today to provide these veterans the permanent supportive housing they must have to access the medical and psychiatric services to which they are lawfully entitled," ACLU lawyer Mark Rosenbaum said in a statement. "The VA could quite literally end veteran homelessness in Los Angeles if this land were used as it was intended."

The suit named VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System director Donna M. Better as defendants. A call to Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C., was not immediately returned.

The lawsuit alleged that the 387-acre parcel at what is now the VA's West Los Angeles Medical Center & Community Living Center campus was deeded to the government by a private owner in 1888 in order to provide housing for disabled war veterans.

It said the land was used for that purpose until the 1960s and 1970s, when the VA stopped accepting new residents and allowed buildings that had provided permanent housing to fall into disrepair or be put to other purposes.

While the property hosts veterans' medical clinics, some 110 acres have been leased to private users, such as a car rental company for vehicle storage, a hotel for laundry facilities and an energy company for an oil well, the suit claimed.

A theater operator stages shows in a campus auditorium that had been built for veterans, and a private school has its athletic fields on the property, it also said.

Rosenbaum said that officials have never publicized how much the VA is receiving from the land deals, and what the proceeds are used for.

"There has been no public accounting of the behind-closed-doors negotiations or of the monies collected or where the money taken in went," he said. "This is VA-gate."