WASHINGTON, D.C. — Funding to rehabilitate the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration campus to help house homeless vets got one step closer to approval Tuesday when a bill to release the money sailed through the House of Representatives.
The bill, called the Veterans Health Care Facilities Capital Improvement Act of 2011, authorizes $35.5 million for seismic corrections and renovations on the West L.A. VA campus buildings.
It passed by a margin of 412 to 3.
Some $20 million of that will go to restoring Building 209, which will then provide long-term therapeutic housing for chronically homeless veterans.
“This facility will provide assistance for our veterans that is long overdue,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Santa Monica) said. “These are men and women who made tremendous sacrifices for our country. We now have a duty to help them get the comprehensive services they need.”
That $20 million was set aside in President Barack Obama’s 2012 budget. The money was taken from unspent major construction funds, which had been previously authorized by Congress.
As such, it skirts a rule that requires new spending authorizations to be offset by cuts in other places.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where it will have to make it through the Committee on Veterans Affairs before a vote on the floor.
It might face more opposition in the Senate, and will need dedicated lawmakers to help ensure its passage, said Santa Monica City Councilmember Bobby Shriver
“I hope that Congressman Waxman will lead the fight in the Senate with Sens. Feinstein and Boxer to get this passed,” he said. “Without that fight, there won’t be anybody housed there.”
Waxman’s bill came up just months after the American Civil Liberties Union, along with Shriver, filed a lawsuit against the VA, accusing them of misusing the 390-acre plot of land that was meant to house homeless veterans.
The suit alleges that the VA leases much of the property to private entities instead of using it for veterans’ permanent supportive housing.
Releasing the funds would be a “good step,” but not enough to achieve the goals of the lawsuit, said David Sapp, an attorney with the ACLU.
“The VA has not made public any timeline on how this would be used if it is released and what the therapeutic model for the buildings will be,” Sapp said.
For instance, if the building is rehabilitated into a lockdown psychiatric facility, it wouldn’t solve the fundamental issues of the lawsuit, Sapp said.
Furthermore, the suit calls for accountability, transparency and scrutiny over the practices of the VA in renting out its facilities to commercial interests, including how much money it’s made and where that money has gone.
According to the lawsuit, nearly 110 acres have been leased to private users, like a car rental company for vehicle storage, a hotel’s laundry facilities and an energy company for an oil well.
In the meantime, facilities for homeless veterans have fallen into disrepair.
“They’ve been talking about this since 2003, about rehabbing this one building,” Sapp said. “They’ve put out numerous press releases to maybe, some day, possibly do something. There are still vets living and dying on the streets of Los Angeles, and press releases don’t solve that problem.”
The VA did not respond to calls for comment for this article.
The 387-acre parcel was deeded to the government by a private owner in 1888 to provide housing for disabled war veterans.