LOS ANGELES — Early on a Wednesday, veteran Robert Reynolds helped a group of vets prepare for a protest.
“I think it’s long overdue," he said. "This problem at the VA has been going on for a long time, and it has affected generations of veterans."
What You Need To Know
- There are about 3,900 homeless veterans in Los Angeles
- Some veterans are protesting the leasing out of VA land to non-veteran groups like UCLA and Brentwood School
- Around 500 housing units were supposed to be completed on the campus in fall of 2020 as part of the Master Plan, but only about 10% have been completed
- The VA says, "All third-party land use agreements provide benefits to Veterans and their families"
The purpose of the protest was to bring awareness to the leasing out of veterans’ land to non-veteran interests like UCLA and Brentwood School.
“There shouldn’t be 3,900 homeless veterans in Los Angeles when you have all this property here that was donated for them,” Reynolds added.
Reynolds knows firsthand what veteran homelessness looks like. Not only was he briefly unhoused himself while he was waiting with his dog to go into the VA, but for more than two years, he has been setting up tents and advocating for unhoused veterans along Vet Row on San Vicente Blvd.
For decades, veterans have been complaining, protesting and even suing the VA for leasing out pieces of land to non-veteran interests. Some of those leases have been terminated but others have not.
The VA said in a statement:
“All third-party land use agreements provide benefits to Veterans and their families. In addition, revenue from leases is permitted by law to be reinvested to support construction, maintenance, and services relating to temporary or permanent supportive housing for homeless or at-risk Veterans and their families. The services provided through the land use agreements and funded through the generation of lease revenues are vital to providing the care our Veterans have earned.”
“When you have catering more toward a special interest group or a non-veteran lease, then a lot of times the veterans get left in the dark,” said Reynolds.
Demanding to be heard, they marched one mile to Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office and to Air Force Veteran and Rep. Ted Lieu’s office.
“This is in Ted Lieu’s district. The veterans want to meet with him. They’re not asking for anything crazy here. He’s the one passing legislation on the property and the veterans have questions for him, and rightfully so,” said Reynolds.
Lieu’s office sent a statement, which reads in part:
“My office and I regularly meet with veterans and veteran groups . . . My first big legislative victory was getting the West Los Angeles Leasing Act signed into law in 2016 . . . Thanks to this work, the VA is now implementing a plan to build at least 1,200 new subsidized apartments.” (The full statement can be found below.)
About 500 of those units were supposed to be made available last fall, but only about 10% were completed in time. And that’s the problem vets say, too many promises have been broken, too many interests and groups are put ahead of them.
So when they arrived at the congressman’s office, the vets put up a tent, and like he has done hundredths of times before for vets along Vets Row, Reynolds put up an American flag.
“We are bringing the tent right here just to let him know you can’t ignore this any longer.”
In memory he says, of the thousands of unhoused vets that still live and die on our streets.
UCLA sent the following statement:
"UCLA has been proud to partner with the Department of Veterans Affairs for 75 years, and offers current and former members of our armed forces state-of-the-art medical, psychological, family, legal, educational and recreational services. UCLA pays market-rate rent for its use of West Los Angeles VA facilities and is in full compliance with the terms of its lease. For five years in a row, UCLA has been named the No. 1 public university for veterans by U.S. News and World Report."
Here is Lieu’s full statement:
“Since coming to Congress, one of my highest priorities has been helping veterans. My office and I regularly meet with veterans and veteran groups to talk about issues pertaining to veteran care and the West LA VA. As a veteran myself, I’m pleased that some of my most notable legislative accomplishments pertain to the West LA VA and helping our veterans. My first big legislative victory was getting the West Los Angeles Leasing Act signed into law in 2016. The bill enabled the enactment of a new Master Plan at the West LA VA – a plan that was a part of a settlement agreement between the VA and veteran advocates. Prior to the lawsuit, the West LA VA had illegally permitted leases on West LA VA property that did not serve veterans. I condemned those leases at the time and our office worked diligently with veterans groups like Vets Advocacy and US Vets to get local vets justice. We were able to end the unlawful leases and spur a redevelopment of the land that prioritizes helping veterans. Thanks to this work, the VA is now implementing a plan to build at least 1,200 new subsidized apartments, which is composed of 23 projects that range from renovating existing structures to developing and building new units.
“Earlier this year, I partnered with Senator Feinstein on the West Los Angeles VA Campus Improvement Act, which will ensure that funds recouped following execution of the 2016 bill go directly back to the West LA VA. Also, this year’s National Defense Authorization Act includes a provision I authored that authorizes the VA to use funds collected pursuant to leases, easements, civil asset forfeitures, or other use-agreements at the West LA VA for the development of supportive housing and services on campus for homeless veterans.
“I was pleased that the Biden Administration has taken the issue of veteran homelessness seriously. When Secretary McDonough was confirmed, I invited him to the West LA VA to see progress on the Master Plan and enlist his support in addressing veteran homelessness in Los Angeles County. I was pleased when he came and that his trip helped spur the clearing of the homeless encampment in Brentwood. Now, the vast majority of veterans who were residing there are staying either on the West LA VA campus, at hotels, or permanent housing. There is a lot of work to do to help the upwards of 4,000 veterans still unhoused in LA County and I will continue to do everything I can to support this crucial mission.”