Culver City Edition Lead Story Local News

VA to add 1,200 units for homeless vets

LOS ANGELES — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released a draft plan Jan. 28 for revamping the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center that calls for 1,200 housing units for homeless veterans.

The plan also calls for health care, housing, education and other services and amenities to be located at the campus for veterans who are not homeless.

Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Los Angeles, said the plan marks the “beginning of a new era of action on behalf of Los Angeles County’s veteran heroes.”

He said the 1,200 units of permanent supportive housing throughout the property would house homeless veterans who need immediate access to health services.

“Solving veterans homelessness in America means solving it in Los Angeles,” he said. “Supportive housing at the West L.A. VA is a crucial step forward in doing just that.”

Lieu said he plans to introduce legislation that would make the permanent supportive housing plans a reality by giving the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs the authority to build the units.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is introducing a counterpart bill in the Senate, he said.

Feinstein said she “strongly” supports the plan, which will connect housing to “health care, education, legal and mental health services to address the underlying causes of veteran homelessness and help veterans become self-sufficient.”

She urged Congress to support her bill, the Los Angeles Homeless Veterans Leasing Act, which would “provide the department the authority it needs to quickly and efficiently construct housing and provide additional services.”

Feinstein also said she is working to secure funding for a part of the master plan that calls for a 450,000-square-foot hospital to be built by 2020 to replace an existing building that is “seismically unsafe.”

She added that the master plan includes moving the veterans benefits office from the federal office building to the VA campus, which would make it “significantly easier for veterans to learn about and access the benefits they have earned.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti said the plan takes into account “more than 1,000 comments from L.A. residents and veterans” and is “the latest step in our continued efforts to ensure that every veteran gets the housing and supportive services they need for a better life.”

“Veterans fought to secure our American dream. Now it’s our turn to fight for them,” Garcetti said.

Los Angeles is working to end chronic veteran homelessness, and “this year, with the vital support of Secretary Robert McDonald, the VA, and our nonprofit partners, we will end it once and for all,” the mayor said.

U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn, D-San Pedro, was in West L.A. for the announcement of the plan and said it was long past time to get homeless veterans off the streets.

“The number of veterans sleeping on the streets has been a shameful reality for decades,” she said. “The American people know that we owe our veterans better. Today’s announcement to transform the West L.A. campus is an incredible step toward ending veteran homelessness in Los Angeles.

“I have high hopes that this new campus will be a thriving community for veterans and a place where they can finally call home. Our veterans deserve nothing less.”

As part of the agreement, UCLA plans to pay $300,000 in annual rent to keep its Jackie Robinson Stadium baseball complex on the property. The university will also pay $750,000 a year for the design and operation of a UCLA-VA Family Resource and Well-Being Center and a Mental Health and Addictions Center for Excellence.

UCLA also will spend $400,000 for the expansion and relocation of the UCLA Veterans Legal Clinic, and provide $2 million over 10 years for recreation and mentorship programs.

“Secretary McDonald’s commitment to transform the West Los Angeles campus into a truly veteran-centric place that modernizes programs and offers greater opportunities has inspired UCLA to explore new ways to work with the VA,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said. “We’re confident that together we will make a bigger difference in veterans’ lives that either of us would alone.”