(136) The Big Land Grab: How Veterans Lost Their Land (Part II of “Gimme Back my Land” Saga)

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Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

In Molly Blog 135, Molly began her storytelling of a donation to “old soldiers” by a mining magnate and his socialite wife in 1881. While the donated site today offers limited use to Veterans through the West Los Angeles Medical Center, 100 buildings on the property have fallen into disrepair and are unusable. Over the years, the VA leased portions of the land for special events such as wine tasting and filming and for uses as a college baseball stadium, commercial laundry, and a golf course.

Today’s blog continues the story with the tale of how the Veterans lost use of land gifted to them for housing in their old age. So, grab a bowl of doggy treats and join us as the saga continues.

One horrific consequence of war is that it exacts heavy and lifelong consequences on the young men and women who made lofty commitments on our behalf: many return with physically invisible wounds of mental illness, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or brain traumas. For countless veterans, military service has rendered them unable to resume their civilian lives, sustain their family relationships, hold down jobs or continue their educations, or even to maintain a permanent residence.

Excerpt from Valentini vs. MacDonald class action lawsuit filed in the US District Court of Central California on August 12, 2011

 Years of Land Use

The de Baker land deed called for use of the land specifically for providing housing for Veterans with disabilities, including establishing and permanently maintaining a soldier’s home for Veterans disabled by war. For 80 years, the predecessor group to the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) operated the Pacific Branch Soldier’s Home, which offered a permanent home for tens of thousands of disabled veterans. Through the non-profit’s efforts, disabled Veterans accessed medical and therapeutic services at the Home. The campus offered postal services, a 10,000-book library, Veteran vegetable gardens, recreation facilities, and other services for the disabled and severely disabled Veterans as well as permanent housing. (Valentini)

In the height of the era that wounded warriors started returning from Vietnam, the organization operating the Home stopped accepting new residents and ceased maintenance of the facilities. Structures dedicated to permanent housing were either used for other purposes or abandoned. All construction dollars went into expanding medical and short-term treatment facilities. This left severely disabled Veterans with brain injuries or mental disabilities with no place in the Los Angeles region to receive treatment, care, or long-term housing.

According to Fox News, “the VA emptied out the sprawling grounds known as the West Los Angeles Campus and began renting property out for all sorts of uses that had nothing to do with veteran care.” David Sapp of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California told Fox News, “Not only were the local VA officials not using the land to house homeless vets, but they were actually affirmatively misusing the property by entering into these private-use agreements that had nothing to do with healthcare, housing or otherwise serving veterans.” (McKay)

The 1960s and 1970s were not the first abuses of the donated property. Following the donation of the original acreage by Arcadia de Baker, other donations of land surrounding the original property swelled the total number of donated acres to 600 for the sole use of disabled Veterans. When development of Wilshire Boulevard and planning for the 405 Freeway and the Los Angeles Federal Building began, the property was divided and portions of the dedicated land were taken away for development, bringing the total acreage down to 388 acres.

Molly napping

Paw-sing for more of the Story

At this point, Molly paws her storytelling and tempts you to return for more of her tail.  On Tuesday, she shares other accounts of Veteran takeaways in Part III of the “Gimme Back my Land” Saga.

Post your Comments:

Does your community host facilities for Veterans on land donated by a private citizen or corporation? Please reply below.

Sources cited:

  • McKay, Hollie. “No more golf, wine-tasting: Prime LA land deeded for soldiers’ care to return to intended use,” in Fox News, retrieved on September 22, 2015.
  • Twair, Pat McDonnell. “This Space for Rent: Leasing Veterans’ Land in West L.A.,” in the VVA Veteran, January/February 2015.
  • Valentini v Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Amended Complaint and Injunctive, Declaratory, Mandamus, and Accounting Relief, Case No.: CV-11-04846 SJO (MRWx) filed on August 12, 2011; case filed with the United States District Court Central District of California, as retrieved on October 19, 2015, at http://www.publiccounsel.org/tools/assets/files/0577.pdf.

About the blogger

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.