January 27, 2017

Senators Introduce Bill to Authorize Delayed VA Medical Leases

Congressional and bureaucratic delays have prevented 24 new facilities from being built to serve an estimated 11 million veterans

WASHINGTON, DC- U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined a group of senators led by Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) to reintroduce the bipartisan Providing Veterans Overdue Care Act, legislation that would authorize pending leases for 24 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities in 15 states. The bill seeks to improve veteran's access to healthcare through the approval of these medical leases, which would allow the VA to open needed healthcare facilities for which the VA has been seeking congressional approval for more than a year.

These facilities include a research facility in Boston that would "further the Boston VA's nationally recognized research programs and help advance medical knowledge, practices, and treatments to improve the quality of care to Veterans nationwide."

Under law, the VA must receive specific legislative authorization to lease medical facilities with average annual rental payments in excess of $1 million. However, since 2012, Congress has not, through a regular process, authorized any major VA medical facility leases, hampering the ability of the department to provide much-needed health care and services to veterans around the country. The 24 leases pending before Congress are located in states with an estimated 11 million veterans.

"America's veterans deserve access to the best possible health care," Senator Warren said. "A new VA research facility in Boston would help support innovative programs to improve the quality of care our veterans receive. Congress should pass this bill to support VA research facilities and clinics throughout the country."

"Despite progress the VA has made in recent years to improve access, too many veterans in Virginia and across the country are still waiting too long to get medical care through the VA. While we have been able to reduce waiting times in the Hampton Roads region, we have a larger challenge ahead as the veteran population in the area grows at roughly four times the national average," said Senator Warner. "Veterans deserve a new outpatient facility in South Hampton Roads to help ease some of the burden at Hampton VAMC, and Congress needs to make the approval of these two dozen pending leases a top priority. Our veterans expect better from us, and this bill is a good step in the effort to improve veteran's access to the services they have earned through their service to this country."

"Veterans deserve convenient access to the high-quality health care they have earned through their service.  That is why I continue to urge my colleagues to support the authorization of these leases for vital medical facilities across the country, including in Portland, ME," said Sen. Collins. "These facilities, such as the proposed CBOC in Portland, will allow veterans to receive outpatient care without the stress and difficulty of traveling to larger VA medical centers, which may be located far away from their homes."

One reason for the delay in congressional authorization has been a recent change in the way that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scores these leases. Prior to 2012, the major medical facility leases were scored on an annual basis, but that year, CBO determined that budget authority for these leases, many of which cover a 20-year period, should be recorded up front when the leases are initiated and the acquisition occurs, not when the debt is repaid. As such, scoring for legislation that authorized these leases increased significantly, even though actual spending would not increase and the leases are ultimately subject to annual appropriations.

The Providing Veterans Overdue Care Act was previously introduced by the senators in the 114th Congress, and they have repeatedly urged Congressional leaders not to allow this scorekeeping issue to further delay congressional action on the authorizations.

The bill would authorize the following leases:

Ann Arbor, MI - Outpatient Clinic
Birmingham, AL - Outpatient Mental Health Clinic
Birmingham, AL - Outpatient Specialty Clinic
Boston, MA - Research Space
Charleston, SC - Research Space
Corpus Christi, TX - Replacement Outpatient Clinic
Daytona Beach, FL - Outpatient Clinic
Denver, CO - Chief Business Office Purchased Care
Gainesville, FL - Outpatient Clinic
Hampton Roads, VA - Outpatient Clinic
Jacksonville, FL - Outpatient Clinic
Mission Bay, CA - Research Space
Missoula, MT - Outpatient Clinic
Northern Colorado, CO - Outpatient Clinic
Ocala, FL - Outpatient Clinic
Oxnard, CA - Outpatient Clinic
Pike County, GA - Outpatient Clinic
Pontiac, MI - Outpatient Clinic
Portland, ME - Outpatient Clinic
Raleigh, NC - Outpatient Clinic
Rochester, NY - Outpatient Clinic
Santa Rosa, CA - Outpatient Clinic
Tampa, FL - Outpatient Clinic
Terre Haute, IN - Outpatient Clinic

Led by Sens. Warner and Collins, the legislation is co-sponsored by Sens. Michael Bennett (D-Colo.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Angus King (I-Maine), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Gary Peters (D-Mich), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

The bill text is available here.