Provide housing for homeless veterans at the VA' s Medical Center.

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Provide housing for homeless veterans at the VA' s Medical Center.

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As Congress returns from a five-week vacation they should be reminded that approximately 8,000 homeless veterans in the Los Angeles area, many with severe medical problems, have nowhere to live even though there is a practical solution right there waiting for them to take action.

The Veterans Affairs Medical Center, located in West Los Angeles, is the largest medical facility in the VA's health care system covering nearly 400 acres. The campus is also one of the most fought-over pieces of property in Los Angeles because it is located in the middle of a densely populated and affluent part of the city.

The Veterans Administration (VA) has had plans to create housing for disabled homeless veterans for years. But so far, those plans have been blocked. Meanwhile, government documents show that the VA has made millions of dollars renting out chunks of the property to private enterprises. According to a report on National Public Radio (see link below), there "are the enterprises here that have nothing to do with helping veterans. On a drive through the campus, Carolina Winston Barrie, 84, the great-great-niece of one of the land donors, Arcadia Bandini de Baker, points out the stadium where the UCLA baseball team plays, the 20-acre athletic complex for an exclusive private school, the laundry facility for Marriott Hotels, and the place where 20th Century Fox stores sets. On the far side of the property were parking lots full of rental cars and school buses. The West Los Angeles VA has made more than a dozen of these long-term rental deals. Most of them have nothing to do with services for veterans."

NPR's report continues, "That's led Rep. Henry Waxman to conclude that "the West L.A. VA was in business for itself." The VA campus is in Waxman's district. He and Sen. Dianne Feinstein have been trying to protect the property from commercialization for years. During the Bush administration, there were proposals to use the land for condos, office towers, a shopping mall. At the time, Waxman went to talk to then-VA Secretary Jim Nicholson.

"He told me when I went to meet with him that he was a real estate developer, and this was prime real estate, and we could make a lot of money by commercializing it, selling it off and letting people build whatever they wanted to build," recalls Waxman. "And then he said that money could be used for veterans."

Waxman and Feinstein got legislation passed making it illegal to sell or even lease the property. But that didn't put an end to the rental agreements. That's because legally, the West Los Angeles VA hasn't been leasing the property; they've been SHARING it. They've used a law that says the VA can share facilities "to secure health care resources which otherwise might not be feasibly available."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing the VA. Again from NPR's story, "Mark Rosenbaum, the legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, says they want permanent supportive housing on the West L.A. campus for mentally disabled veterans like Summers, so that they have "housing that has access to medical and psychiatric services. It's common sense." Rosenbaum says his clients' severe mental disabilities make it next to impossible for them to access the treatment to which they're legally entitled. "You can't get medical and psychiatric services if you're living in Skid Row and you're part of a cycle of homelessness." The ACLU lawsuit is challenging the rental agreements, too, arguing that they have nothing to do with veterans health care. At least three agreements have recently been terminated.

Join us in demanding that Congress should act immediately to protect those who fought to protect us, our veterans. This should be a bipartisan effort that should proceed as swiftly as possible. Our veterans should get the care that they deserve!

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