Questions over repairs at veterans facilities across the country

We checked in with the Salem VA Medical Center

By Jenna Zibton - Anchor

SALEM, Va. - Questions have been raised over repairs at Veterans Medical facilities across the country.

Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine are worried the $2 billion that's supposed to go to infrastructure will be diverted to the Veterans Choice Program instead. They say that program, which allows Veterans to get care outside the VA system, is facing a shortfall.

But the senators say many of the VA centers are more than 50 years old and need to be modernized.      

"It is important that Congress not enable VA to continue to cannibalize one aspect of its budget to pay for another," wrote the senators in a letter to Senate appropriators.  "Our veterans deserve better than a VA that cannot invest in their future long term because they are constantly repurposing funding to address short-sighted budget decisions. Increased funding for VA medical facilities will make significant progress in reducing the nationwide backlog in VA construction and infrastructure work that has impacted veterans' access to critical medical and long-term care services. VA is the largest integrated healthcare system in the United States, yet many of its facilities are over 50 years old and are in desperate need of modernization. As VA facilities deteriorate, veterans are left without accessible care."

We checked in with the Salem VA Medical Center about its projects.  A spokesperson says all of the construction is moving along as planned and nothing is backlogged.

Here's what's being worked on:

Under Construction - $26 million

  • Expansion of the operating suite
  • Construction of Utility Plant

In Design Phase - $14 million

  • Emergency Department
  • Dialysis Department

Completed - $5 million

  • Education and Training Classrooms
  • Expanded dining room for Community Living Center

Maintenance improvement projects - $24 million

  • Approval of two building envelope (roofing) projects
  • Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) replacements have been approved for design funding in FY18  
  • Another tentative design approval for FY18 will renovate private room at Salem VA Medical Center's medical and surgical

The full text of the letter to Senate appropriators reads:

"Dear Chairman Moran and Ranking Member Schatz:

"As you review appropriations for fiscal year 2019, we ask that you honor the commitments made under the Bipartisan Budget Agreement Act of 2018 to provide $2 billion in fiscal year 2019 for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) infrastructure repairs and modernization. In February, Congress reached a comprehensive bipartisan budget agreement that included $4 billion to be spent in fiscal year 2018 and 2019 for investments in VA infrastructure. We are deeply concerned by the VA’s proposal to divert this funding to the Veterans Choice Program and ask that you ensure that the $2 billion granted under the Bipartisan Budget Agreement for fiscal year 2019 be used for its original purpose. While we support providing additional healthcare options for veterans in the community, private sector programs should not be funded at the expense of the specialized care at VA.

"Increased funding for VA medical facilities will make significant progress in reducing the nationwide backlog in VA construction and infrastructure work that has impacted veterans’ access to critical medical and long-term care services. VA is the largest integrated health care system in the United States, yet many of its facilities are over 50 years old and are in desperate need of modernization. As VA facilities deteriorate, veterans are left without accessible care. It is not a choice when veterans are forced to seek care through the private sector because they cannot seek care safely within the VA.

"Likewise, investing in VA infrastructure repairs and modernization will recruit talented medical professionals at a time when the VA is grappling with maintaining adequate staffing levels. Strong funding for infrastructure modernization will set VA facilities apart from their counterparts in the community and improve hiring and retention efforts. The importance of ensuring VA has high quality providers cannot be understated and Congress must pursue all solutions to bolstering the VA’s recruitment efforts – including upgrading VA facilities to attract top talent. Used wisely, federal funding for VA infrastructure could resolve a litany of challenges and must not be repurposed.

"In fiscal year 2018, you supported the Bipartisan Budget Agreement Act and appropriated $2 billion as the first down payment to improving VA infrastructure. Of the $2 billion, $1 billion was allocated for nonrecurring maintenance of VA medical facilities; $425 million for minor construction; and $575 million for grants for construction of State Extended Care Facilities. We applaud the Committee’s action and urge you to continue to provide funding for deferred maintenance on crumbling hospitals and unfinished construction projects, as well as funding to address the approximately 70,000 identified code deficiencies at hospitals and clinics nationwide in fiscal year 2019.

"Congress agreed to provide the VA with $2 billion in fiscal year 2019 with the understanding that it will be used to rebuild and improve VA hospitals and clinics. The VA’s proposal to repurpose this funding to the Veterans Choice Program not only disregards this intent, but it is another troubling example of the agency’s history of poor financial management. It is important that Congress not enable VA to continue to cannibalize one aspect of its budget to pay for another. Our veterans deserve better than a VA that cannot invest in their future long term because they are constantly repurposing funding to address short sighted budget decisions.

"Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to working with you to ensure our veterans receive the best quality care possible."

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