Washington, D.C. – Today, Members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) announced a bipartisan agreement to authorize 28 VA medical facility leases that have been awaiting approval for years, including a new 41,000-square foot clinic in Oxnard—an effort long spearheaded by HVAC Health Subcommittee Ranking Member Julia Brownley (D-CA). The bill also shores up an additional six months of funding for Veterans Choice, a program that allows some veterans to receive care outside the VA that was created in the wake of the Phoenix wait-time scandal. The House and Senate are each slated to take up the legislation before departing for the August District Work Period.
Brownley welcomed the bipartisan agreement:
“This is a huge win for Ventura County’s veterans. This new lease represents a five-fold increase, since 2013, in the space available for additional providers, expanded services, and specialty care. It’s been an honor to work with local veterans, veteran advocates, and service organizations to deliver this win, and I am excited to be able to announce this great step forward for our community.”
“I am so pleased that this bipartisan agreement includes my bill, taking us one step closer to breaking a logjam that has stood in the way of better VA care in communities across the country. The demand for VA healthcare is increasing, and many veterans face long wait times because outdated facilities are too small to accommodate the growing number of veterans seeking care. The leases authorized by this bill are located in 17 states with an estimated 11.8 million veterans who have been waiting years for improved access to care. I urge my colleagues to move this bill forward so we can better meet our veterans’ healthcare needs.”
“I am also happy to see agreement on the Choice program. In the short-term, Congress must shore up funding for the Choice program so that veterans’ medical appointments aren’t canceled. In the long-term, Congress must consolidate the various programs that enable veterans to receive care outside of the VA into a single, unified system that is simple for both veterans to use and for providers who want to participate.”
The leases have been held up for several years because of a bureaucratic dispute over whether new VA leases should require duplicative cost offsets from other VA programs. Congress must specifically authorize medical facility leases with yearly rental costs of over $1 million, and for many years, did so routinely. However, in 2012, the Congressional Budget Office began assessing the cost of all VA clinics based on the life of the lease rather than the annual cost. This made it difficult to gain authorization, because some in Congress were demanding additional cost offsets before the facilities could move forward.
Brownley has long been a champion for fixing this bureaucratic dispute and authorizing the backlogged leases. Most recently, Brownley spearheaded bipartisan letters to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the Trump Administration urging approval of the leases. Additionally, Brownley testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs on this issue in February 2017, and for several years, she has also been advocating for standalone legislation to authorize the leases (H.R. 90).
In addition to pushing for approval of the 28 backlogged leases, Brownley introduced the Build a Better VA Act (H.R. 94), which provides a permanent fix for this problem by allowing major medical facility leases to be authorized by a Committee resolution rather than via legislation. This would bring the process in line with the one used for other federal facilities and avoid the need for additional offsets.
When complete, the new Oxnard VA clinic will improve access to primary care, mental health services, and specialty care in a modern space, making it more convenient for veterans living in the region to access care closer to home, instead of having to commute to the Sepulveda or West Los Angeles veterans’ healthcare facilities.
The other leases that have been held up by this bureaucratic dispute that are in this legislation include:
- Ann Arbor, MI – Outpatient Clinic
- Birmingham, AL – Outpatient Mental Health Clinic
- Boston, MA – Research
- Charleston, SC – Research
- Corpus Christi, TX – Replacement Outpatient Clinic
- Daytona Beach, FL – Outpatient Clinic
- Denver, CO – Chief Business Office Purchased Care
- Fredericksburg, VA – Outpatient Clinic
- Gainesville, FL – Outpatient Clinic
- Gainesville, FL – Outpatient Mental Health Clinic
- Hampton Roads, VA – Outpatient Clinic
- Indianapolis, IN – Outpatient Clinic
- Jacksonville, FL – Replacement Outpatient Clinic
- Missoula, MT – Outpatient Clinic
- Northern Colorado, CO – Outpatient Clinic
- Ocala, FL – Outpatient Clinic
- Pike County, GA – Outpatient Clinic
- Pittsburgh, PA – Outpatient Clinic
- Portland, ME – Outpatient Clinic
- Raleigh, NC – Outpatient Clinic
- Rochester, NY – Replacement Outpatient Clinic, Phase II
- San Diego, CA – Research
- Santa Rosa, CA – Outpatient Clinic
- Tampa, FL – Replacement Mental Health Clinic
- Lakeland, Tampa, FL – Replacement Outpatient Clinic
- Terre Haute, IN – Replacement Outpatient Clinic
- Rapid City, SD – Replacement Outpatient Clinic