Veterans employed at the University of California, Los Angeles can now receive free walk-in care at the UCLA Staff and Faculty Counseling Center, reported The Daily Bruin. The program launched earlier this month and appears to be another in a lengthening line of institutional actions aimed at improving the school's relationship with local veterans.
The Department of Veterans Affairs in 2005 invited a variety of Los Angeles-based organizations to set up shop on a dilapidated VA property on the western side of the city, reported the Los Angeles Times. A number of local entities, including UCLA and the Brentwood School, developed property on the site. However, a federal judge in 2013 ruled that the VA had abused its power by leasing land for purposes unrelated to its mission. Investigators from the Government Accountability Office soon discovered that the VA and its lessees had completely mismanaged the property. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki called for a federal investigation.
President Barack Obama in May 2014 forced Shinseki to resign and replaced him with Bob McDonald. The new secretary promptly ended the investigation and re-purposed the land for an expansive community for homeless veterans. The VA released the final plans for this project in January and vowed to remove tenants who didn't intend to serve former military personnel.
"Those who have not become veteran-centric as we hope UCLA and the Brentwood School will be will have to leave," Vince Kane, one of Secretary McDonald's senior advisors, told the Times.
Local veterans reacted harshly to UCLA's role in this controversy and were doubly disappointed to learn that the school planned to hold on to Jackie Robinson Stadium, the large NCAA Division-I baseball complex that occupies its portion of the misused VA land. Ultimately, the school cut a deal with the agency and signed a new lease on the property in January, reported The Daily Bruin.
The school has begun to address the concerns leveled by local veterans. It actively collaborated with the VA on the proposed West Los Angeles community and pledged $3 million for a variety of veterans service centers that will dot the property when it's completed, reported the Los Angeles Times. The university also promised to develop specialized sports programs for local military personnel and their families.
"Beyond research and teaching, UCLA's other core mission is service, and I can think of no better way to serve our community than through an even stronger partnership with the VA," UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said in a news release.
The school's walk-in therapy program adds to its growing portfolio of veterans services.