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VA Land Use Claims Disputed

Cyril Barnert, MD wrote in his April 18th letter that some veterans with psychological problems “decline or walk away from the treatment†and that “all the income” from the non-veteran use of land at the VA hospital is used for veterans services.

While it is sadly the case that some veterans do not persist with their treatments, we must be careful not to allow the VA to use this as a pretext to avoid their responsibility to provide both treatment and residence to the many veterans who clamor for care and housing. Congressman Waxman’s office estimated that there are 20,000 homeless veterans within a 50 mile radius of the West Los Angeles VA medical facility – more than in 42 other states combined. The land at the VA was given to the United States as a charitable donation in 1888 for the “permanent maintenance of a Home†for veterans. “Home†implies long-term residential facilities for veterans who are infirm or otherwise unable – for whatever reason – to live on their own. It clearly means more than just a stay in the hospital.

The United States has shamefully failed to adequately fund Veterans’ care and housing for decades. No doubt the doctors at the VA may feel themselves constrained by lack of funds to do all the things that they know are required. But this fact does not justify the parceling out of veterans’ land, for two reasons:

First, the land is subject to a charitable covenant for the “permanent maintenance†of a Home. The grantors of the land and the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (the predecessor to the VA) wanted the acreage to provide a buffer from the world. According to Congressional testimony in 1926:

They wanted to give the old soldiers ample grounds in which they could
be housed and where they could walk and rest in comfort and quietude.
They wanted to give them an open place where sunshine and flowers
abounded and where they could live and move without feeling that they
were walled in on all sides by the factories and apartment houses of a great
city.

Secondly, the assertion that “all the income†from non-veteran use of the land is directed to veterans services cannot be verified. For instance, the oil lease is paid to the Dept. of the Interior, not the VA. The VA has declined to make the other leases public, except in the briefest summary fashion, nor will they account for the funds. The law requires that such revenues be used at the facility from which they are generated, but we can’t find out if that is actually happening.

Veterans should not have to “pawn†their legacy, the land, to provide care and housing that is the responsibility of the United States. The integrity of the land must be preserved for the benefit of veterans, not the general public or private interests.

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