- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 8, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A lawsuit filed Wednesday accuses the federal government of misusing a 390-acre plot of land in Los Angeles that was donated some 130 years ago for facilities to house veterans who need care after traumatic military experiences.

The suit claims the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs leased much of the property at its West Los Angeles facility to private entities instead of using it for veterans’ permanent supportive housing.

It was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and other public interest lawyers on behalf of disabled, homeless veterans.

The lawsuit accuses the department of breach of fiduciary duty and seeks an injunction forcing the department to use the property for the housing and care of wounded vets, among other demands.

“We bring suit today to provide these veterans the permanent supportive housing they must have in order to access the medical and psychiatric services to which they are lawfully entitled,” ACLU lawyer Mark Rosenbaum said at a press conference announcing the lawsuit. “The VA could quite literally end veteran homelessness in Los Angeles if this land were used as it was intended.”

There were 7,000 homeless veterans 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 suit specifies four plaintiffs _ three Iraq veterans and a woman who was raped while serving in the Army _ who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments. It seeks class-action status.

The lawsuit’s lead plaintiff, 33-year-old Southern California native Greg Valentini, came home from serving in Afghanistan and Iraq with PTSD, which prompted him to use illegal drugs, the lawsuit said.

Valentini became homeless after his father forced him out of their home over his drug use, the suit said. He is currently in a transitional housing facility, but he has trouble interacting with people during his bus ride to the West Los Angeles campus to be treated for PTSD and drug addiction, the suit said.

“It’s been very hard for me to adjust to life back home. It feels like I’m on alert all the time, and I have trouble stopping myself from thinking about the things I’ve seen,” Valentini said in a statement read aloud at the press conference by Steve Mackey, the California president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, who explained that Valentini’s mental state kept him from attending the event.

The rape victim, who is not identified in the suit, was discharged from a clinic on the West Los Angeles campus less than four months after being admitted with PTSD, the lawsuit said. She was told to move into a Skid Row hotel that offered counseling but did not feel safe there and ultimately opted to live in her car, the suit said.

The suit named VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System director Donna M. Better as defendants.

Veterans Affairs spokesman Joshua P. Taylor referred questions about the lawsuit to the U.S. Department of Justice and released a statement highlighting Shinsekis 2009 pledge to end veteran homelessness by 2015 and other efforts to address the issue.

Department of Justice spokesman Thom Mrozek said his agency was reviewing the lawsuit and was not yet in a position to comment.

Veterans groups across the country have repeatedly skirmished with the VA over plans to lease land to private entities, said Vietnam Veterans of America national president John Rowan.

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