LOS ANGELES – The Veterans Affairs Department said Tuesday it wants to renovate buildings on its sprawling West Los Angeles campus to accommodate homeless veterans — a move that came after vets sued the agency for allegedly neglecting those in need of constant care after traumatic military experiences.
The VA plan calls for three of the 12 buildings to be renovated to provide housing for homeless veterans. The other structures would be used for outpatient clinics and research facilities involving the care of vets.
VA spokesman Josh Taylor said he could not comment on the lawsuit, which was filed June 8 on behalf of veterans by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and other public interest lawyers.
However, he said the VA's renovation plans have been in the works for months.
The renovations still must be authorized by Congress. Lawmakers will also have to allocate funding for most of the renovations, although money for one of the housing structures could come from existing construction funds, Taylor said.
"This master plan builds on VA's progress to end veteran homelessness and ensures that land use at West Los Angeles will continue to put the needs of Veterans first — now and into the future," VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System director Donna M. Better said in a release.
ACLU lead counsel Mark Rosenbaum called the announcement "an unmistakable admission that the core claims of the lawsuit are valid and long overdue."
Homeless veterans claimed in the federal lawsuit that the VA had misused the 387-acre plot of land, which was donated by private owners in 1888 to house veterans. It accused the department of breach of fiduciary duty for leasing much of the property to private entities instead of using it for veterans housing.
The suit sought an injunction forcing the department to use the property for the housing and care of wounded vets, among other demands.
Four plaintiffs who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments were named as plaintiffs in the suit, which sought class-action status. It named VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Better as defendants.
The West Los Angeles Medical Center & Community Living Center campus has veterans' medical clinics, but some 110 acres have been leased to private users, including a car rental company for vehicle storage, a hotel for laundry facilities, and an energy company for an oil well, the suit claimed.
The parcel is a rare expanse of open green space in one of Southern California's most densely populated areas. Scattered hospital buildings can be seen on the fenced property from the surrounding traffic-choked streets. It is not far from the upscale community of Brentwood and the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles, which has a baseball stadium on the parcel.
The suit said the land was used to permanently house veterans 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 used for other purposes.
There were 7,000 homeless veterans in the Los Angeles area in 2010, about 10 percent of the country's total population of 71,609 homeless vets, according to the VA's most recent tally.
Taylor did not immediately know how many veterans the renovated buildings will be able to serve.
Rosenbaum said the plan would not come close to meeting the area's needs.
"It'll be a drop in the bucket in terms of the number of homeless vets on the streets in Los Angeles who require permanent supportive housing," he said.
Associated Press writer Kimberly Hefling contributed to this report from Washington.