The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs is sitting on a collection of highly sensitive documents expected to show the VA is dragging their feet on fixing a huge problem. Public rights activist Judicial Watch sent out a press release announcing they have been forced to file a second lawsuit compelling the VA to cough the records up.
In 1888, almost 400 acres of prime West Los Angeles land was signed over to the federal government specifically to be used as a home for disabled veterans. While the vets did get a home, most of the property went to other uses. UCLA’s baseball team got a stadium. A private school was given an athletic complex. Even 20th Century Fox had maintenance and storage facilities on the property. There was a golf course, dog park and farmer’s market. Fields for a private soccer club for girls, even the Brentwood theater.
Area veterans sued the VA and convinced the court they were much more entitled to use the land than the others. In typical legal fashion, the courts ignored most of the issues presented and focused on the core issue that affected veterans the most. Their health care. In a procedural action following their decision, the court was considering the issue of granting an extension in putting the settlement into effect. The delay was requested in order to allow “other interested parties” a chance to have their say in the matter.
The court notes that the request came “after the Court has adjudicated each claim and closed the action. No issues remain pending before the Court. It is unclear, therefore, what Movants hope to obtain by intervening… other than the opportunity to re-litigate Plaintiffs’ APA claim.” In the underlying case, the court ruled that the land was “intended to be used to share resources that relate to the provision of health-care.” None of the agreements entered into with any of the parties using the land met that requirement. “The fact that veterans sometimes utilize the Stadium and the Complex for recreation and rehabilitation does not convert those sports facilities into health-care resources.”
The court found it very important to point out that for them to allow outside parties to get involved after the case had been tried and settled would be pointless. “Not only has a lot of water already passed underneath the litigation bridge, but the whole stream has dried up. Reopening the procedural flood gates at this late stage serves no purpose.”
Not only pointless, re-opening the case would cause unnecessary delay to the veteran plaintiffs. Lawyers tried to argue that no harm would come to the veterans because it would take considerable time for the settlement to go into effect anyway. In the courtroom version of a slap down, the Court wrote, “Movants’ misunderstand the nature of prejudice. The court recognizes that invalidation of the Disputed Agreements will not have an immediate impact on Plaintiffs, but every delay in the final resolution of Plaintiffs’ claims prolongs their injuries and the suffering of similarly situated veterans. The sooner this case is resolved, the sooner Plaintiffs will begin receiving medical care, whether it be tomorrow or next year.”
Settlement of the case was reached in October of 2015. Former VA Secretary, Robert McDonald, promised the entire complex would be dedicated to veterans in need, especially vets who were disabled, seniors or female. Despite this promise, results have not materialized. The VA blames the delay on the scope of the project. they say a total remake of the 388 acre complex will take years to complete. The problem is that it seems they have not even started. Consultants were not hired until a year after the settlement to start work on a master plan. A pending environmental study is expected to take another two years. The VA plans to build a total of 480 new housing units over four years but 150 of them can be expedited on the current site of MacArthur Field.
Judicial Watch wants to know what is behind the delay. They have now made two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for two separate batches of documents and both are long overdue. The first suit involves records of negotiations leading up to the settlement agreement entered in the underlying case. The second is asking for details of leases and other agreements between affected parties.Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch laments, “The misuse of this Los Angeles veteran’s facility is a symbol of how the VA mistreats veterans. Our new lawsuit aims to hold the VA accountable to the rule of law and to the veterans whose interests it is supposed to serve.”