A coalition representing homeless veterans sued the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Wednesday, alleging the federal agency failed to provide stable housing at its West Los Angeles facility for vets suffering from mental disorders.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed the proposed class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles on behalf of four homeless veterans, the Vietnam Veterans of America and Carolina Winston Barrie, a descendant of one of the property's original owners.
According to the ACLU/SC, about 8,200 homeless veterans live in the Los Angeles area, many without access to the 387-acre VA campus donated more than 100 years ago to provide shelter and support to service members.
The complaint -- which, according to the ACLU, is the first of its kind - - seeks to compel federal officials to use the campus to care for and house mentally disabled vets.
"Homelessness itself exposes veterans to further trauma that itself can both cause and aggravate PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other disorders," the lawsuit states.
A VA spokesman said the agency cannot comment on ongoing litigation.
In a speech Monday to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said that in 2009, there were an estimated 131,000 homeless veterans in the country. Today, he said, that figure is down to 75,600 largely as a result of the work of the coalition.
"Veterans lead the nation in homelessness, depression, substance abuse, suicides, and we rank right up there in joblessness, as well," Shinseki said.
"Our goal must remain focused on getting individual veterans back on the path to stability, independent living, and gainful employment," he said. "We intend to devise better solutions for housing those who are homeless and preventing those at risk from becoming homeless."