The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) plans to open 38 new community outpatient clinics, in 22 states and territories, between now and 2017. These clinics will be in leased buildings, with VA employees providing the services. This same arrangement has worked well in hundreds of existing VA clinics, nationwide.Last year, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), an independent arm of Congress, decided these lease contracts would become long-term debts of the federal government. In considering the first 15 leases, Congress, based on the new CBO interpretation, forced VA to find funds for all 15 leases to cover an entire 20-year leasing period, rather than provide the money for only the first year. The authorizing law only requires the first year to be funded, with future payments to be managed through the annual VA budget. Because VA could not pay the entire cost (between $1.2 and $1.5 billion) in the first year for 15 clinics, this new interpretation effectively stopped all VA proposed leases. This program, both new clinic leases and renewals for existing leases, is now in jeopardy.
Without these clinics, VA will be denying care to veterans in need, while making their health care more expensive overall. The cost to the government is far less than construction of major VA hospitals. Without the ability to lease, from a practical point of view the change in Congressional policy forces VA to buy land and build government-owned clinics, or to do nothing. At a minimum this new requirement will add years to the existing planning process, will delay or deny care for veterans, and is unacceptable to veterans who need VA health care.
VA is managing almost 900 existing community-based outpatient clinics, all established under the prior policy, and operating under leases. Veterans who receive this care are highly satisfied. In our opinion this successful arrangement should not be abandoned at the expense of 340,000 or more veterans who would be denied care.
Please use the prepared letter, or write your own letter, to urge your two Senators and Member of the House of Representatives to solve this problem, to ensure veterans receive the care they earned and deserve. Recently, the Executive Directors of the major veterans service organizations sent a letter to Congressional leaders expressing our concerns.
As always, thank you for your grassroots advocacy on behalf of injured, wounded and ill veterans, and for your support of DAV and our mission of service to veterans.