For Denis McDonough, like generations of Veterans Affairs secretaries before him, homelessness among U.S. military veterans remains a confounding stain on America’s promise.
“The American people expect that there not be homeless veterans. The bigger problem for us is going to be if we fail, which is why I’m not going to let us fail,” McDonough told ABC News in an exclusive interview marking one year after being confirmed to the job.
While the number of homeless vets has dropped by more than half over the last decade, an estimated 20,000 ex-service members are still without permanent housing on any given night, according to figures released this month by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
McDonough believes the VA and an alliance of private developers and nonprofit groups could be on the cusp of significantly reducing the number even further, starting in Los Angeles, California, which has more homeless veterans — an estimated 3,900 — than anywhere in the country.
“We really think that we can supercharge this effort so we can show the country that this is doable there,” McDonough said. “We can then use that momentum to get it done everywhere else.”
The West LA VA campus, a sweeping 388-acre plot set just to the west of Beverly Hills and UCLA — some of the government’s most valuable real estate — is in the midst of an ambitious transformation to house a community of more than 1,200 veterans in permanent apartment homes.
First set into motion in 2015, it is the largest veterans housing project in the country.