By Debbie Gregory.
The Department of Veterans Affairs and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs are taking a hard look at VA facilities across the country to determine which ones have been outlived their usefulness. Many aging and underused facilities could be subject to closure.
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said that the agency is considering a plan to close more than 1,100 facilities across the country, given that the VA continues to allow a larger number of veterans access to private sector health care.
Shulkin told a House hearing that the department has identified 735 underused facilities. There are also 430 empty buildings, most of which were constructed around 90 years ago.
Committee Chairman Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., the ranking Democrat, want to create a paid commission to recommend which facilities should be closed. Their bill, the Asset Infrastructure Review Act (AIR) is in its early stages. As it is currently written, the bill would require Shulkin publish the criteria to be used in choosing which facilities to close, modernize or realign in the Federal Register by January 15, which is less than two months away.
Shulkin said the VA and Congress would work together to review buildings for possible closure, possibly using a process like Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), which the Pentagon has used in the past to determine which underutilized military bases should be closed.
But the BRAC process has been controversial, raising concerns among members of Congress about the negative financial impact of closing military bases in their districts.