California Veterans Sue the Veterans Administration

By Robin Kemker
Robin Kemker
Robin Kemker
August 29, 2013 Updated: August 28, 2013

LOS ANGELES—For some 15 years, local California veterans have watched as private and public entities have been taking over various sites and facilities that were mandated for the purpose of providing medical care of veterans by the 1887 Congress for the Los Angeles Veterans Home Campus.

After attempts to correct this through various channels failed, local veterans engaged the Los Angeles ACLU to have the courts determine and enforce the Veterans Home regulations and deeds.

History of Veterans Homes

After the Civil War many veterans returned home, but were different men suffering from wounds and battle stress. Battle stress, now known as PTSD, was a major condition that their families did not know how to deal with. These veterans often became homeless, unable to handle civilian life and were unable to work or take care of themselves.

In 1887 Congress passed a Veterans Home bill for California and in 1888 a perpetual land-use restriction deed agreement was incorporated into the two deeds. The deed restrictions stipulated an exclusive use for veteran housing and health services. 

The California Veterans Home was built on 600 acres and what is now a 388-acre parcel of land west of the I-405 freeway and north and south of Wilshire Blvd. East of the freeway is a 114-acre military plot with a cemetery where 85,000 American soldiers are interred. In 1888, it was “far” from downtown Los Angeles. Today it sits between Brentwood and Los Angeles in West Los Angeles. Brentwood is home to former California governors, members of the U.S. Congress and California state legislators, movie stars, and other noteworthy citizens.

Veterans consider these Veterans Home sites sacred. The Veterans Homes serve the health needs of those who have protected our country and many have cemeteries for those who fought for our country.

Claims of Misuse

The original purpose of these Veterans Homes was exclusively for the health care and supportive housing of veterans. Most states have not allowed a Veterans Home to generate income from vacant land or unused buildings from entities that do not provide housing and health services to veterans. However, this is not the case at the Los Angeles Veterans Home. During the last 15 years, noncomplying encroachments have increased to one-third of the campus.

Veterans advocate Robert Rosebrock and fellow veterans—comprising an ad hoc group, the Old Veterans Guard—have been publicly protesting every Sunday since 2008 on the public sidewalk outside the locked front gates to the Veterans Home to make public the misuse of the campus. Rosebrock said there is private oil extraction without royalty payments to the VA. Other uses include a private school athletic facility, public “dog park/kennel,” public theaters, and more. 

“As you have seen during our protests on Sundays, many local people honk their horns when they see us out here in front of the Veterans Home protesting the abuses. The community as a whole seems very supportive of the veterans’ position on who should be on this sacred land,” said Rosebrock.

“There is a group called the Veterans Park Conservancy [VPC] that was organized to bring the Veterans Home campus up to a desirable state that is consistent with the environment of their adjacent community,” said Rosebrock. “The Brentwood Conservancy [affiliated with the VPC] is one of the secondary defendants in this case.”

“For the VPC to accomplish this purported violation of the deed literally required an act of Congress,” said Rosebrock. 

When Sue Young, executive director of the VPC, was asked how she was able to get this public park agreement, she said: “Because this arrangement was unprecedented, it required lengthy discussions and compromises with the Veterans Administration in Los Angeles and Washington. The agreement also called for approvals at the highest levels, i.e., VA Secretary Nicholson, and the involvement of the [California] Congressional delegation.” 

The VPC website lists U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Henry Waxman in its list of government supporters, among other noteworthy politicians.

Since that time, numerous entities have established facilities and businesses on the LA Veterans Home Campus that do not provide health care services for veterans. 

Veterans Take VA to Court

On Aug. 15, in the US District Court, Central District, Judge S. James Otero sat patiently listening to and questioning the defendant’s (VA) legal team led by Deputy U.S. Attorney Ms. Karen Bloom. The specific defendants are VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Los Angeles VA Executive Director Donna Beiter, and the secondary defendants are those entities operating on the property but not meeting the requirements of the deeds and law.

Bloom presented her final arguments regarding the purported legality of private entities operating non-healthcare services or facilities on the West Los Angeles Veterans Home Campus. 

Judge Otero appeared frustrated with the government’s defense position, interrupting Bloom on the key issue of veteran health services.

The whole mood in the courtroom changed as Judge Otero questioned and re-questioned Bloom and eventually turned to the ACLU legal team for the plaintiff’s final argument.

ACLU lead attorney Mark Rosenbaum argued that VA regulations specifically have a blanket requirement for the purpose/use of VA Home property—all activity on the VA Campus must be for veteran health and health supportive services only. 

He also pointed out that the VA did not enter into typical use agreements. Either party could terminate the agreement at will. This was seen as an indication that the VA and/or leasers were concerned about the arrangement. As of the court date, two of the named secondary defendants had already terminated their agreements without penalty, according to the plaintiff’s counsel Rosenbaum. 

Judge Otero summarized the arguments and went into further detail on the Plaintiff’s argument before adjourning the hearing. The final decision is forthcoming.

Calls made to the VPC were not returned.

Robin Kemker
Robin Kemker