At a full committee mark-up hearing on Thursday, Feb. 25, the U.S. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee voted to advance legislation authored by Congressman Jerry McNerney (CA-09) to reform the Veterans Administration (VA) construction process in order to reduce construction project backlog, and ensure that more veterans are able to access the health care benefits they earned. H.R. 4129 would jumpstart construction by allowing the VA to enter into public-private partnership agreements with non-federal entities to build major medical facility projects. The bill now awaits consideration by the full House.
“The status quo of the VA construction process that has come to be defined by cost overruns, delays, and reduced quality of care is completely unacceptable, and reforming the process is long overdue. I’ve seen firsthand how even routine appointments can burden our veterans because they have to travel far outside of their community to use the health care benefits they earned serving our country,” said McNerney. “My bill would give the VA the ability to leverage partnerships between the VA and non-federal entities – such as local and state governments and private partners – to jumpstart construction of medical facility projects that would help connect more veterans with health care. We owe it to our veterans to do everything possible to speed-up construction, reduce the backlog, and improve their access to quality health care.”
McNerney’s bill permits these nonfederal entities and partners to raise half of the funds for major medical projects to facilitate the construction process. Project restrictions include major medical facility projects where Congress has already appropriated funds; the design and development phase is complete; and construction has not begun, as of the date of the enactment of this Act.
The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee also voted to allocate funding for the VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic project in French Camp in their FY 2016 VA Seismic Safety, Construction, and Lease Authorization Act.
“This is another critical step to move the French Camp VA clinic to the construction phase of the project. This clinic is an important investment in the health and well-being of the 87,000 veterans across the Central Valley region that would be served by the clinic,” said McNerney. “I applaud this latest development, and I will be closely monitoring the progress as this construction project moves forward.”
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee must also vote to allocate funding for the French Camp VA clinic as part of its larger construction authorization act.
In 2015, funding for the French Camp clinic was included in the FY16 omnibus spending bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama.
The VA estimates that the French Camp clinic will break ground in 2017 and take two and a half to three years to complete. If the project stays on schedule, the French Camp CBOC should open late in the year in 2019 or early in 2020. The Army Corps of Engineers will be the project manager for this major construction project.
McNerney has been a staunch advocate for securing the authorization and funding for more VA facilities, particularly the French Camp clinic, repeatedly calling for the financial resources to complete the project.
In 2013, 50 major construction projects were under management by the VA at a cost of more than $12 billion. A U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that for some of the VA’s largest medical construction projects, costs had skyrocketed and schedule delays threw the projects off track.
Under McNerney’s H.R. 4129 bill, the VA would enter into agreements on a competitive basis with non-federal entities, like state government, municipalities, port authorities, flood control districts, and provide matching funds. These entities could take the lead on construction, with the ability to raise capital for the project and accelerate the construction of major medical facilities.