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Hearing of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee - Deconstructing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Construction Planning


Location: Washington, DC

Good Morning everyone, and thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing on the capital planning and budgeting process for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

VA is the owner and operator of 33,000 acres of land and over 5,500 buildings. Many of the VA hospitals and medical facilities are aging and are in need of major renovation or replacement. Many VA facilities need to be upgraded in order to meet standards for earthquakes, fires and patient privacy.

Central to VA's mission is the operation and delivery of the highest quality health care to our nation's veterans -- and we understand that a key part of this care is the facilities in which it is provided.

The VA's fiscal year 2012 budget included the Department's 10-year Action Plan and according to VA -- the plan is a living document reflecting changes in the composition and alignment of assets. It represents a snap shot in time based on the current state of VA's capital portfolio and projected needs.

This 10-year action plan comes on the heels of the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services or CARES. I am sure we all remember the CARES initiative which was the first comprehensive look at VA's infrastructure and alignment since 1981.

In 1999, VA initiated the CARES process, along with a 5-year capital plan for the Department's construction budget. When the VA embarked on the CARES process, the VA's health infrastructure was thought to be unresponsive to the needs of current and future veterans.

While about 24 percent of the veteran population was enrolled in the VA for health care, the CARES plan assumed that the enrollment population would increase to 33 percent by the end of 2022. In addition, there were concerns about the ability of the existing health infrastructure to meet the demands of the aging veteran population who opt for warmer climates in the South and the Southwest.

CARES was intended to eliminate or downsize underused facilities, convert older massive hospitals to more efficient clinics, and build hospitals where they are needed in more populated areas.

In essence, CARES was to direct resources in a sensible way to increase access to care for many veterans and to improve the efficiency of health care operations across VA facilities. VA informed this Committee in order to implement CARES properly they would need $1 billion dollars a year for 5 years.

Because of the delays in the process, many of the identified projects rose in cost which ended up costing much more than original projections.

CARES was supposed to be a blue print for future VA facilities development. However, here we are, once again, looking at a new process implemented by VA in the fiscal year 2012 budget. This year, the VA rolled out the Strategic Capital Investment Planning (SCIP) program designed to build upon the CARES process.

With this new process and 10-year look, that includes pending CARES projects, VA's projected construction needs are between $53 and $65 billion. However, if you do the math for the present rate of FY 2012 request of $2.8 billion, it would take 20 years to meet the minimum resource need identified in the 10-year plan.

It is unclear to me how VA will continue to follow this, and it is also unclear how well SCIP will address the medical and demographic needs of current and future veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq.

We look forward to working with the VA to ensure that our veterans receive the best possible care in medical facilities that are modern and safe -- while being built efficiently and cost-effectively.

I look forward to hearing about the current construction process, VA's plans and needs for future construction, and how this committee can support this effort -- with the end goal always being to provide the best possible health care to our veterans.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back.

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