Press Releases

Lawsuit Seeks to End Homelessness for Veterans with Disabilities in Los Angeles

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

Advocates and Veterans Say the VA Must Provide Permanent Supportive Housing So Veterans With Disabilities Can Access the Health Care and Housing Benefits to Which They Are Entitled

LOS ANGELES, November 16, 2022 – A lawsuit filed yesterday on behalf of 14 homeless veterans and the National Veterans Foundation charges that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has failed in its duty to provide housing and healthcare to veterans with disabilities. As a result, according to the Complaint, nearly 3,500 veterans are homeless in Los Angeles on any given night.

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, called “Permanent Supportive Housing” or “PSH” for all unhoused veterans with disabilities in Los Angeles. Without such housing, the Complaint claims, veterans with serious disabilities cannot access desperately needed mental and physical treatment services to which they are entitled. 

“The worst part of war should not be coming home,” stated Shad Meshad, Founder and President of the National Veterans Foundation. “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.”   

“Tragically, a conservatively estimated 3,458 unhoused veterans live on the streets of Los Angeles this year,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Director of Public Counsel’s Opportunity Under Law program.” This is nearly 10% of all unhoused veterans nationwide. The unhoused veteran population in Los Angeles includes men and women who served in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, and throughout the world. And thanks to the VA’s failures, those heroes are living and dying in sordid encampments and sidewalk shanties around LA every day.” 

“I enlisted on September 13, 2001, in response to the 9/11 attacks, and served in some of the worst fighting in Iraq,” shared Josh Petitt, one of the plaintiffs. “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.”

“The West Los Angeles VA has 388 acres of property which was donated and deeded to be a Home for Disabled Veterans in perpetuity,” said Rob Reynolds with the advocacy group AMVETS. “ 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. Over 4,000 veterans used to call the WLA VA home, and today in 2022, there are only 54 units of permanent housing on the entire property and an estimated 3,500 homeless veterans in Los Angeles. Housing construction is continually delayed, and construction projects unrelated to housing are prioritized first. Then to add insult to injury, the VA continues to illegally lease out land meant to house our veterans in defiance of the law. Enough is enough, too many veterans have needlessly died, and it’s time the VA operates lawfully to end veterans’ homelessness.”

“Many military veterans return home with invisible wounds, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or traumatic brain injury,” said Eve Hill, a Partner at Brown Goldstein & Levy. “We as a country have committed to treat those wounds. But without stable housing that’s connected to treatment, these veterans cannot access the services they need and deserve because of their disabilities. The lack of Permanent Supportive Housing forces veterans with disabilities to live in psychiatric hospitals, homeless shelters, jails, or the streets or to give up treatment entirely. That violates Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.” 

The lush 388-acre West LA Campus was donated to the VA in 1888 to provide housing and healthcare to veterans. But, according to the Complaint, 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. 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. 

“Veterans have been asked to wait years for housing while the VA leases out the West LA Campus for purposes that do not benefit veterans,” said Kara Mahoney, Directing Attorney at Inner City Law Center. “As far as we can tell, all veterans get from these leases is free parking. The safety and wellbeing of our veterans demands that they can’t keep waiting.”

The lawsuit seeks an injunction requiring the VA to fulfill its commitments to provide appropriate Permanent Supportive Housing so veterans with disabilities can reasonably access the health care and housing benefits to which they are entitled in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. It also seeks an injunction to prohibit the VA from entering into any land use agreements that violate the West Los Angeles Leasing Act of 2016 in that they do not “primarily benefit veterans” and otherwise violate the charitable trust created on behalf of veterans with disabilities.

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 none completed. In fact, even the infrastructure needed for housing is not complete, nor has any work begun for the town center and socialization and recreation facilities. In addition, the VA continues to enter into noncompliant leases with entities that do not serve veterans. Currently, the VA plans to provide no funding for the construction of housing units and requires developers to secure their own funding.

“Fifty years of broken promises has to end,” said Roman Silberfeld of Robins Kaplan, LLP. “Nothing prevents the VA from doing its duty towards our veterans with disabilities – they have the land, they have the funds – all they lack is the will. Through this complaint, we insist the VA finally fulfill its promises and provide the homecoming it promised our veterans.”

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

###

For media inquiries, please email Joshua Busch HERE.

Public Counsel: Founded in 1970, Public Counsel is the nation’s largest provider of pro bono legal services, utilizing an innovative legal model to promote justice, hope, and opportunity in lower-income and communities of color in Los Angeles and across the nation. Through groundbreaking civil rights litigation, community building, advocacy, and policy change, as well as wide-ranging direct legal services that annually help thousands of people experiencing poverty, Public Counsel has fought to secure equal justice and opportunity for all for more than 50 years.

Inner City Law Center (ICLC): 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 experiences 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.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap