Powers v. McDonough

Housing Justice, Veterans Rights

Holding the VA Accountable for Its Failure to Provide Housing & Healthcare for Veterans with Disabilities

For decades, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has failed in its duty to provide housing and healthcare to veterans who have fought wars, defended American liberties, and made enormous personal sacrifices. In addition, the VA has refused to provide adequate housing and services at its sprawling 388-acre campus in West L.A. – land donated to the VA in 1888 specifically to create a home for veterans with disabilities. As a result of the VA’s failures, nearly 4,000 veterans are homeless in Los Angeles on any given night, accounting for 10% of all unhoused veterans nationwide. 

In November 2022, fourteen courageous veterans experiencing homelessness and The National Veterans Foundation filed a lawsuit against the federal government for its failure to provide housing and healthcare to veterans with disabilities. The veterans bringing this action all suffer serious disabilities such as PTSD and traumatic brain injury. They seek to secure coordinated housing and healthcare services, or Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), for all unhoused veterans in Los Angeles. 

When veterans return from service, many face daunting, lifelong consequences, including depression, serious mental illnesses, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injuries, and addiction. These challenges render countless veterans unable to fully resume their civilian lives, sustain family relationships, maintain employment, continue their education, or even maintain a permanent residence. Without coordinated housing and healthcare services, veterans with significant disabilities cannot access the mental and physical treatment services they are entitled to and desperately need.

The lush 388-acre West LA Campus was donated to the VA in 1888 to provide housing and healthcare to veterans. But the VA does not offer, on its grounds or within its service area, anything close to adequate Permanent Supportive Housing coordinated with the medical, mental health, and other supportive services veterans with serious mental illness or brain injuries require on its grounds or within its service area. Instead, the VA has entered into illegal leases on the land, including sports fields and parking for an exclusive private school, a state-of-the-art baseball complex for UCLA, and oil drilling to extract oil from neighboring land. The VA’s own Inspector General has made clear that these leases are contrary to both its legal obligations and the intent of our nation’s taxpayers.

More than 4,000 veterans used to call the WLA VA home, and at the time of the lawsuit’s filing, there were fewer than 50 units of permanent housing on the entire property. Housing construction is continually delayed, construction projects unrelated to housing are prioritized, and the VA continues to illegally lease out land meant to house veterans in defiance of the law.

A 2011 lawsuit was filed to address the disability discrimination against these veterans and contest the land use agreements and the alleged violation of the deed. Although the VA committed to construct 1,200 units of new Permanent Supportive Housing – 770 of which should have been completed by now – virtually no supportive housing has been built as of 2022. Leases were executed for 55 units in 2017. Since then, 387 units have been started, but at the time of the filing of the lawsuit, none had been completed.

The 2022 lawsuit calls for the VA to fulfill its commitments to provide appropriate Permanent Supportive Housing so veterans with disabilities can access the health care and housing benefits to which they are entitled. It also seeks an injunction to prohibit the VA from entering into land use agreements that do not “primarily benefit veterans” and violate the charitable trust created on behalf of veterans with disabilities.

On May 15, 2023, the plaintiffs filed an amended suit, pursuing a class action against the VA on behalf of all homeless veterans who reside in LA County. In addition, the complaint was expanded as the VA continues to fail veterans, forcing them onto the streets. The amended lawsuit brought in Marcia L. Fudge, the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Douglas Guthrie, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA), as defendants. 

The plaintiffs are represented by Public Counsel, Inner City Law Center, and the law firms Brown, Goldstein & Levy, and Robins Kaplan LLP.

Press conference to announce the filing of the lawsuit, held at Public Counsel on Nov. 16, 2022.
Court

U.S. District Court for the Central District of California

Status

Active

Case No.

2:22-cv-08357

Filed

11/15/2022

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Case Developments and Key Developments

Ruling

Motions to Dismissed Denied

U.S. District Judge David Carter denied the government’s motions to dismiss.

Documents

Filing

Amicus Brief Filed on Behalf of Legal Scholars

The ACLU, writing on behalf of legal scholars Erwin Chemerinsky, David Marcus, Pamela Karlan, Judith Resnik, Laurence Tribe, Michael Wishnie, and Adam Zimmerman, has filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs’ opposition to the government’s motion to dismiss.

Documents

Filing

Plaintiffs Opposition to Motion to Dismiss

Documents

Filing

Veterans Pursue Class Action Lawsuit, Expand Complaint

Plaintiffs filed an amended suit, pursuing a class action against the VA on behalf of all homeless veterans who reside in LA County. The complaint was also expanded as the VA continues to fail veterans, forcing them onto the streets. The amended lawsuit brought in Marcia L. Fudge, the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Douglas Guthrie, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA), as defendants.

HUD and HACLA have failed to use their funding authority to address the needs of homeless veterans in Los Angeles, declining to work with the VA to fund the construction of housing on the West Los Angeles Medical Center & Community Living Center Grounds (VA WLA Grounds) and declining to fund HUD-VASH vouchers (which allow veterans to access VA health services) at rates that would allow veterans with disabilities to live near VA medical services. Additionally, the so-called voucher program to provide temporary housing has been an abysmal failure in LA. HUD and HACLA have limited the amount of the voucher to below market rental rates and to venues like Lancaster that make accessibility impossible for desperately needed mental and physical health services on the VA grounds in West LA for disabled vets. The result is that the VA, HUD and HACLA have left thousands of veterans on the streets of L.A.

Documents

Filing

Complaint Filed

Fourteen veterans experiencing homelessness and The National Veterans Foundation filed a lawsuit against the federal government for its failure to provide housing and healthcare to veterans with disabilities. The veterans bringing this action all suffer serious disabilities such as PTSD and traumatic brain injury. They seek to secure coordinated housing and healthcare services, or Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), for all unhoused veterans in Los Angeles. Without such housing, veterans with significant disabilities cannot access the mental and physical treatment services they are entitled to and desperately need.

Documents

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Clients

“The worst part of war should not be coming home. Each week our outreach team goes out to homeless encampments, working the meanest streets of Los Angeles, where we find large communities with vets embedded in them. We see our brothers and sisters living in squalid conditions worse than I saw in Vietnam. You cannot ever come home if you are homeless. How is it that our city is the homeless veterans’ capital of the United States? I hope my government will choose to join, not resist, the warriors in arms in their last and most important fight of all—the struggle to survive and thrive.” –Shad Meshad, Founder and President of the National Veterans Foundation
  • Jeffrey Powers
  • Deavin Sessom
  • Laurieann Wright
  • Samuel Castellanos
  • Joseph Fields
  • Lavon Johnson
  • Billy Edwards
  • Jessica Miles
  • Joshua Robert Petitt
“I enlisted on September 13, 2001, in response to the 9/11 attacks, and served in some of the worst fighting in Iraq. Half my unit was killed or wounded, and I received three Purple Hearts. Now I have PTSD. I’m supposed to have services from the VA. But I have to live in a shed on the West LA Campus in order to get treatment. I did my duty. I just think the VA should do what it promised me.” –Josh Petitt
  • Glenn Surrette
  • Naryan Stibbie

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Organizational Partners

Rob Reynolds with the advocacy group AMVETS.

“The West Los Angeles VA has 388 acres of property that was donated and deeded to be a home for disabled veterans in perpetuity. The property operated as a home for veterans for nearly 80 years until the VA started illegally leasing out the land and letting the buildings fall into disrepair. As a result, veterans are dying on our streets, and Los Angeles has become our nation’s capital for veterans’ homelessness.” - Rob Reynolds

Legal Team

Public Counsel

Co-Counsel

Inner City Law Center

Inner City Law Center fights for housing and justice for low-income tenants, working-poor families, immigrants, people living with HIV/AIDS or other disabilities, and homeless veterans. The only legal-services provider located in Skid Row, ICLC advocates for equitable housing policies and provides legal services to prevent and end homelessness. Since 1998, ICLC’s Homeless Veterans Project has served veterans with disabilities who live without adequate or stable housing to secure the benefits, healthcare, and housing to which they are entitled as a result of their service.

Brown Goldstein & Levy, LLP

Founded in 1982, Brown, Goldstein & Levy is a 20-lawyer law firm based in Baltimore, Maryland, with an office in Washington, DC. The firm has maintained a thriving national practice handling cases of every stripe, from commercial litigation and civil rights to criminal defense and complex family law. Above all else, Brown, Goldstein & Levy is a client-centered law firm and has decades of experience bringing passionate, effective advocacy to our clients’ fights for justice.

Robins Kaplan LLP®

Robins Kaplan is among the nation’s premier trial law firms, with more than 220 lawyers located in Bismarck, N.D.; Boston; Los Angeles; Minneapolis; Naples, Fla; New York; Silicon Valley; and Sioux Falls, S.D. The firm litigates, mediates, and arbitrates high-stakes, complex disputes, repeatedly earning national recognition. Firm clients include—as both plaintiffs and defendants—numerous Fortune 500 corporations, emerging-markets companies, entrepreneurs, and individuals.

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Press

Press Releases

Media Stories

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