By Debbie Gregory.
In the spirit of saving tax dollars and stretching the budget, the U.S. military is being forced to cut programs, reduce personnel numbers, and even close some installations. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is now asking if it can do the same.
Unlike the DOD, the VA is expanding. Due to negative publicity regarding VA appointment wait times and scandals, public outcry made Veterans Affairs the hottest political issue of 2014. Several programs and billions of dollars have been allocated to VA programs in an effort to fix a broken system. As a result, the VA is one of the few government entities that is on a hiring spree. They are building new facilities, and several new initiatives are intended to improve Veteran healthcare, access to VA resources and better serve Veterans. But to make their budget go even further and to better serve Veterans, the VA is proposing to close a few of the facilities that are under-utilized by the Veteran community.
In budget testimony before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, VA Secretary Robert McDonald said the department has 336 buildings across the nation, spanning the VA’s three administrations, that are less than half-occupied, or are not being used at all. The estimated cost of maintenance on the 336 buildings is over $24 million per year.
The VA has over 1,700 medical facilities, including medical centers, out-patient clinics, and nursing homes. There are also 56 regional offices and 131 VA national cemeteries and 33 monument sites. The VA wants to streamline resources and focus in order to provide better service at all of their facilities and offices. On top of this, the VA estimates that approximately 1,300 of the structures that house their facilities are seventy or more years old.
“VA cannot be a sound steward of the taxpayers’ resources with the asset portfolio that we’re currently carrying,” McDonald told the committee. “No business would carry such a portfolio. Veterans deserve much better. It’s time to close the VA’s old substandard and underutilized infrastructure.”
Closing any facilities will require support from Congress. Many lawmakers believe that any federal government facility closure means potential reduced services, lost jobs, and angry constituents. Many members of Congress are likely to initially agree with the VA’s proposal, but are more likely to balk if closures are targeted at facilities in or near their constituency.
The VA has not developed a formal list of facilities to be closed, nor a strategy to execute any closures.
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Military Connection: VA Wants to Close Under-utilized Facilities: By Debbie Gregory