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Waxman urges VA to start work on West L.A. site for homeless vets

October 4, 2012 |  2:30 pm

Veterans Administration facility in West Los Angeles, 2011

Under pressure from veterans' advocates, U.S. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) has urged the federal Department of Veterans Affairs to begin long-expected work on renovating a facility for homeless vets at the West Los Angeles VA campus.

The VA said late last year that construction on Building 209 was expected to begin in June 2012 and be completed in November 2013. However, the agency has not yet selected a construction contractor.

"There is deep frustration that the benchmarks and deadlines the VA has set for the project have expired and there is no fixed date for the start of the project," Waxman said Thursday in a letter to Eric K. Shinseki, secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Waxman noted that $20 million for renovating Building 209, a 1945 structure identified as historic, was included in legislation enacted a year ago.

"The contract has been advertised for bid twice and the deadline for bids has expired," he said. "There is no reason why your department should not award the contract this month."

The VA said in late August that it expected to select a construction contractor by early November. Groundbreaking has tentatively been set for January, with construction lasting a year to 18 months, VA spokesman Dave Bayard said in an email.

Based on the current design, Building 209 would include 55 apartments, of which 45 would be single rooms and 10 would be doubles, the VA said. The facility would house primarily veterans for whom VA doctors had recommended long-term therapy and support in a residential setting. The building would include a multipurpose room, a dedicated women's wing, offices, a training kitchen and a specialized bariatric unit for treating obese veterans.

Mental health care for homeless vets has been too long in coming, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California alleged in a class-action suit filed last year. Over many years, portions of the VA campus have been leased for rental car and bus storage, hotel laundry services and athletic fields for a private school.

The 400-acre campus was intended as a home for disabled veterans under the property's 1888 deed.

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--Martha Groves

Photo: The Veterans Administration facility in West Los Angeles. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

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