LOS ANGELES — A federal judge nudged the Department of Veterans Affairs Thursday toward settlement talks with lawyers who accuse the agency of neglecting homeless vets on its sprawling west Los Angeles medical campus.

Judge S. James Otero appointed a mediation officer to handle the case and commanded government lawyers to name a VA official with the authority to sign off on a settlement agreement who could participate in talks.

Otero disregarded protests from the VA’s lawyer, Justice Department attorney Elisabeth Layton, who argued that the step was premature and that federal government defendants are regularly given leeway as to when they specify such a “decision maker.”

“I’m not going to let the federal government hide behind bureaucracy,” said Otero, who stressed that the case’s potential importance to needy veterans could justify some departure from precedent.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Santa Monica City Councilman Bobby Shriver are among a group that filed the complaint against the VA in June that accuses the agency of neglecting homeless veterans who need care after traumatic military experiences.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of disabled, homeless veterans, accuses the VA of breach of fiduciary duty for leasing much of the 387-acre property to businesses although it was donated by private owners in 1888 to provide housing for disabled war veterans.

The suit, which names four veterans as plaintiffs and seeks class-action status, says the land was used to permanently house vets until the 1960s and 1970s, when the VA stopped accepting new residents and allowed buildings that had provided permanent housing to fall into disrepair or be used for other purposes.

The complaint seeks an injunction forcing the VA to use the property for the housing and care of wounded vets, among other demands.

Layton said Tuesday that she would file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit based on claims that the plaintiffs have no standing to allege breach of contract by the federal government and that providing housing is not explicitly among the VA’s responsibilities.

While the property hosts veterans’ medical clinics, the plaintiffs’ lawyers said its in-patient services are not sufficient for Los Angeles’ massive population of homeless veterans. There were 7,000 homeless vets in the Los Angeles area in 2010, about 10 percent of the country’s total population of 71,609 homeless vets, according to the VA’s most recent tally.

The VA recently enacted a new master plan for the campus that provides for more veteran housing on the site and at other new facilities, but the ACLU and its co-counsel have criticized those measures as inadequate.

The VA has said the new master plan also prompted it to boot from the property three longtime tenants, a bus company, a car rental firm and a commercial laundry.

At Thursday’s hearing, lawyers for the veterans concurred with Otero’s orders that would set the groundwork for mediation to take place.

Attorney Ronald Olson said that veteran advocates had long wanted to negotiate an accommodation with the VA over their claims concerning the Los Angeles campus, but government officials have resisted such talks.

“We have tried to move that ball from the get-go,” Olson said.

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