The American Civil Liberties Union announced Wednesday it filed a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, alleging misuse of a parcel land in Brentwood donated by a prominent West Los Angeles family.
The ACLU announced that it had filed the suit on behalf of four homeless veterans and the descendants of the family that originally owned the land, at a press conference on Wednesday, in front of Veterans Park.
Among the attendees was Carolina Barrie, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Veterans Park Conservancy and a descendant of Arcadia Bandini de Baker. In 1888, de Baker and Sen. John Percival Jones deeded 300 acres of land along Wilshire and San Vicente boulevards in Brentwood to take care of wounded war veterans.
The land become a compound housing a veterans hospital, the Los Angeles National Cemetery and a recreation area. However, the Department of Veterans Affairs has rented out portions of the land to private corporations.
The ALCU says it wants a federal judge to order the Department of Veterans Affairs to use the land solely to house veterans or provide medical and psychiatric care to them.
“The VA is legally obligated to provide medical and psychiatric services to every veteran,” said Mark Rosenbaum, ACLU's chief counsel. “The property was donated to be used as permanent supportive housing for the veterans... but that has not happened."
“It’s shameful,” said Steve Mackey, president of the Vietnam Veterans of American California State Council. “We have all the buildings in there. They can just modify the buildings and open them to homeless and disabled veterans.”
Rosenbaum agreed. “Now the land houses more empty buildings and more rental cars than it does veterans,” he added.
Mackey said one of the plaintiffs listed in the suit, who has lived on the streets since his return from service in Afghanistan and Iraq, fears coming forward because he suffers from a severe case of post traumatic stress disorder.
“He has been struggling to adjust to life back home," Mackey said. "He constantly has nightmares. He says it would have been better to come home in a flag-draped coffin. He needs medical and psychiatric help.”
The attorneys for the plaintiffs said the department has thwarted several attempts to communicate.
Mackey also said veterans—who have been protesting to get the housing facility for homeless vets reopened for decades—had no choice but to file suit.
“I would like to make clear that this lawsuit is a last resort,” hr said. "We tried to have the government and the VA provide the services and accommodations that our disabled and homeless brothers and sisters need. But the VA has not responded.”
A representative for the Department of Veterans Affairs could not be reached for comment Wednesday.