Veterans Fight the VA
But to Amos Hartston, it’s a disgrace.
Hartston and others have filed a lawsuit to force the Department of Veterans Affairs and the federal government to use the campus to house homeless, disabled vets.
As chief counsel and legal director at Inner City Law Center, Hartston’s office regularly represents veterans who are seeking military and disability benefits.
“We have a commitment to house homeless veterans,” Hartston said. “That’s really what they deserve.”
Veterans who have suffered traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder often become homeless. And without a permanent address or a vehicle, thousands of chronically homeless, disabled vets are unable to access treatment, Hartston said.
“They’re already eligible for these services but they can’t get access because they don’t have stable housing,” Hartston explained, “and they can’t get stable housing because they can’t access those services. It’s circular and the problem is these [injuries] are as a result of their service.”
Hartston filed the lawsuit in collaboration with the ACLU on behalf of four homeless veterans, but they are seeking class-action status.
The VA hospital and other services are located on the VA campus on the wealthy westside of the city, far from where most homeless veterans live. Hartston said the issue has become the “elephant in the room” in LA politics.
Because these homeless veterans don’t have the resources to easily travel across Los Angeles, they are denied the medical services they deserve because they are poor, he said.
The Bandini family who donated the land in 1888 insisted it be used to house disabled war veterans. But as the area has become wealthier, Hartston said, property owners and neighborhood groups have “been a real barrier to continued use of the land for its intended purposes.”
The campus has been rented out to companies in private land-use deals instead. On the campus are two theaters, an energy company with an oil well, a dog run, the UCLA baseball team, and Brentwood School, a private school with a state-of-the-art sports facility.
“It’s actually one of the most valuable pieces of property that the federal government owns,” Hartston said. “It’s inexcusable…There’s no reason for this.”
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority reports that 18 percent of LA County’s 51,340 homeless are veterans. The authority found that while the number of homeless in LA has fallen over the last few years, the number of homeless veterans has increased.
Those who argue that the land should be used for housing veterans are making progress. Earlier this month, the US House of Representatives passed a bill setting aside $36 million to renovate a building on campus to provide permanent, supportive housing for disabled veterans. It is one of three buildings on campus that used to house disabled veterans but now stand vacant and in disrepair.
Since Hartston’s organization and the ACLU filed the complaint in June, the VA has already made efforts to change the campus. The campus has given notice to Enterprise-Rent-A-Car, Sodexho laundry, and Tumbleweeds, a bus company, that they must move off the campus with the year, the Los Angeles Times reported in June.
The VA defends leasing portions of the campus.
“Any revenue generated from land-use activities directly benefits veterans by way of enhancements to our healthcare facilities,” VA spokeswoman Wileen Hernandex told the LA Times this month.
There are currently 70 beds available for veterans on campus at a Salvation Army that is leasing its location. Otherwise, the VA refers homeless veterans to other programs for housing services. HUD vouchers are allocated for eligible veterans, according to the VA website.
While the litigation continues, thousands of homeless veterans sleep on LA streets. Hartston said he was reserved about the progress being made. “It’s a long road,” Hartston said, “but it’s not done yet.”
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