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LA VA Campus Reopens After Being Padlocked for Decades

John Ismay

After being chained and padlocked for decades, the gate to the West Los Angeles VA Campus's Grand Lawn has re-opened.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald presided over the ceremonial re-opening Thursday. 

"There have been a lot of things going on over the last few years on this land that have not benefited veterans," he said, standing in front of the wrought iron gate between Wilshire Boulevard and the veterans campus lawn.

It was one of three ceremonies in quick succession, meant to usher in a new era for the campus.

But one person who attended the gate opening ceremony, homeless activist Ted Hayes, said the agency wasn't doing enough to house homeless vets on the West L.A. campus. He said tents should be set up on the Grand Lawn to provide emergency shelter to those living on the streets.

"Get ‘em off the sidewalks at least, and put ‘em in here and let the rich community out there, Brentwood, know that we do have a homeless veteran issue," Hayes said.

Immediately following the gate ceremony, McDonald went over to a Veterans Welcome Center - intended to be the starting point for area vets seeking all available services from the VA - and then to a refurbished building that will offer permanent housing to 65 veterans.

Called simply "Building 209," the center took 11 years to complete from the initial concept to today, and cost taxpayers a reported $20 million. That works out to approximately $300,000 per veteran housed.

And with nationwide estimates of homeless veterans topping 40,000 people, it would cost $12 billion to house them all if every unit was as expensive as Building 209's are.

Unless of course, officials follow Ted Hayes' plea and simply set up some tents. Covering more than 600 acres, the West L.A. campus could host more than a few.

The changes at the campus were prompted by a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of veterans. They said the agency's leases of land on the campus violated it's intended use. The land was donated by a local family on the condition that it be used to house homeless veterans.

Veterans homes were built there, but they had fallen into neglect over decades.

As part of a settlement of that case in January, officials vowed to return the campus to its intended use.

Veterans and Military Issues Reporter