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VA Redeems Itself in West LA

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced on Jan. 28 that it has struck a deal with plaintiffs' attorneys to turn its West Los Angeles VA campus into a facility that truly serves veterans, especially those who are homeless, severely disabled or elderly.

The agreement states that VA and the attorneys "intend to work together as partners, in coordination with key Federal, State, local and community stakeholders and charitable and philanthropic entities to end veteran homelessness in Greater LA in 2015 and beyond." Both parties will seek input from veterans service organizations, legislators and the local community.

"The American Legion is relieved that VA is returning to its original mission in West LA," said American Legion National Commander Michael Helm. "We have grimaced for many years over the irony of a once-thriving veterans' campus surrounded by the largest population of homeless veterans in America." It is estimated that between 8,000 and 20,000 homeless veterans live in the Los Angeles area.

By June 15, according to the agreement, VA experts and "a reputable urban planning firm" will get to work on developing "an optimal New Master Plan for the West LA campus. To this end, VA will establish a timeline and framework for receiving and evaluating input from relevant stakeholders" that include veterans service organizations.

Attorneys representing homeless veterans agreed to dismiss a lawsuit filed in 2011 against VA, which has been using the West Los Angeles Medical Center & Community Center for activities that violate terms of the land's original purpose.

In 1888, the land was donated to the federal government to "permanently maintain a national home for disabled volunteer soldiers." But in more recent years, VA has leased the land and facilities at the campus to a variety of non-veteran tenants, including a hotel-chain laundry, a movie-set storage facility, and an athletic complex for a private school.

The American Legion has protested VA's mishandling of the West LA campus for many years. In 1983, the Legion passed a resolution urging that "no part of the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration Facility be sold or otherwise transferred by the United States Government, or any agency thereof."

In 1992, the Legion passed another resolution on the issue, stating that "real property" at the West LA campus and other locations should be maintained to ensure "the greatest benefit for care and well-being" of ill or disabled veterans.

Last September, the Legion was set to testify at a congressional hearing on the West LA campus debacle, but the hearing was postponed twice; it is now rescheduled for Feb. 10.

Helm said he was baffled as to why the West LA campus closed its residences to veterans in the first place. "But I am proud to see VA redeeming itself in such an effective manner," he said. "Thousands of homeless and disabled veterans will be sheltered and cared for in the future because of Secretary McDonald's initiative. We salute him for clearing up a mess that was embarrassing to the veterans community, and to America."

The West LA campus served as a permanent residence for homeless veterans until VA began closing its doors to them and allowing the private sector to lease land and buildings. VA's misuse of the campus was investigated in the article, "Betrayed," published in the September 2014 issue of The American Legion Magazine.

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