U.S. Sen. David Vitter today sent a letter to Eric Shinseki, Secretary of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, urging him to report to the U.S. Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee with a recommendation of fifteen clinics to authorize this fiscal year. A hearing with the Department of Veterans' Affairs is required for the Committee to move forward with the funding authorization. A hearing is expected this month.
"Bureaucratic errors at the VA are what threw these clinics into jeopardy in the first place, but they have an opportunity now to fix their errors," Vitter said. "It would be completely inconceivable if the VA created further delays by refusing to cooperate with the Senate Veterans' Affairs committee now."
A recent ruling by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reversed authorization for twelve Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) clinics from last year's VA funding bill, including clinics in Lafayette and Lake Charles. Vitter urged the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee to include both clinics in the committee's funding authorization bill.
Vitter also worked to include a provision into the National Defense Authorization Act during the Senate Armed Services Committee markup that would have addressed seven national VA clinics including the clinics in Lafayette and Lake Charles, but his efforts were blocked by bureaucracy in the committees.
A copy of Vitter's letter to Secretary Shinseki is below.
July 18, 2013
Secretary Eric K. Shinseki
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary Shinseki:
It has come to my attention that the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs (VA) is waiting for a briefing from your Department on which of the fifteen VA clinics proposed to be authorized this fiscal year are most needed. After numerous bureaucratic errors committed by your agency have thrown the future of needed VA clinics in Lafayette, LA and Lake Charles, LA into jeopardy, it is inconceivable that your agency would create further delay by refusing to give the Committee anything it needs to authorize and fund these clinics.
As you are aware, due to an unexpected change by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in how it scores the cost of VA clinics, fifteen clinics that were ready to be built were stripped out of a VA authorization bill last year. I have been working since this occurred on finding a solution to get these clinics built. Recently, I was assured that the Senate VA Committee was working on a solution to authorize and fund at least a subset of these clinics, and they were hoping to have a markup on proposed legislation before the end of July. In order to meet this deadline they need a recommendation from your Department on which of the fifteen clinics are most needed. It is the middle of July, and this has still not occurred. It is astonishing that a Department with an astronomically high 600,000 veterans in a disability claim backlog would not show any urgency. I implore you to brief the committee as soon as possible.
Construction of the clinics in Lafayette and Lake Charles would already be nearing completion if not for your agency's ineptitude. Do not make veterans of Southwest Louisiana wait any longer for clinics they deserve and need. In light of their service to our nation, our veterans were promised that their healthcare needs would be met. As Secretary of the Department of Veterans' Affairs, it is your duty to see that this promise is adequately and promptly fulfilled.
United States Senate