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UCLA’s deal with VA looks to benefit LA veterans

UCLA officials announced Jan. 28 the university will pay $1.15 million annually for medical, legal and recreational services to the VA’s West Los Angeles campus. (Daniel Alcazar/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Daily Bruin Staff

Feb. 8, 2016 6:31 a.m.

Several veterans and experts said they think UCLA’s agreement with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will benefit the medical, social and financial health of Los Angeles veterans.

UCLA officials announced Jan. 28 the university will pay $1.15 million annually for medical, legal and recreational services to the VA’s West Los Angeles campus. It will also pay $300,000 per year for its renewed lease of Jackie Robinson Stadium, where the UCLA baseball team hosts home games.

In 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the VA on behalf of homeless disabled veterans, arguing that leasing sections of the campus to organizations that did not directly benefit veterans was a misuse of the land. The lawsuit, which cites UCLA’s lease of Jackie Robinson Stadium as an example of misuse, also called for more veteran housing and better medical services.

In January 2015, the VA agreed to create a plan to improve its services and add housing units to the campus. In October, the department released a detailed plan outlining its goals for the campus but did not specify what would happen to Jackie Robinson Stadium.

An ACLU spokesperson said it supported the VA’s plan to improve its campus, but did not have a comment on UCLA’s agreement with the VA.

Some veterans said they think the agreement will improve the services they already have.

“As long as it’s available to me and I’m interested, I’ll take part,” said Vincent Brown, a Marine who served from 1970 to 1974.

Brown said he was homeless after his discharge, but improvements in VA benefits over several decades helped him back onto his feet.

Other veterans said they questioned UCLA’s motives.

Another marine, who asked to be identified as UCLA student out of fear of retribution, said the assistance this money will provide veterans warrants praise, but it should not have taken a lawsuit to spur the gesture. The student said he views the agreement as a way of placating veterans’ grievances raised in the lawsuit.

“It’s wonderful they’re helping, but it really seems like the school is doing this in their own best interests,” he said.

He added he thinks UCLA lacks space and resources for veterans on campus.

“It would not take a lot for them to make a big difference,” he said, citing the small space allocated for the Veterans Resource Office and the low number of computers the veterans can access.

Melissa Tyner, who runs the UCLA Veterans Benefits Legal Clinic with the UCLA School of Law, said the clinic will be relocated and expanded as part of the agreement, but no further details have been released.

She added it is too early to tell how the expansion will affect the current clinic, but she thinks increased resources will result in increased access to legal services for homeless veterans.

Some experts said they think any improvement is beneficial, regardless of the circumstances that prompted UCLA’s increased affiliation with the VA.

Mark Kaplan, a professor of social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs who testified before a Senate committee at a hearing about veterans’ health, praised the effort but said much more needs to be done to combat the mental health, substance abuse and alcoholism issues prevalent in the veteran community.

“There are still major gaps in services for veterans,” he said. “But any opportunity for expansion is good.”

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