Warner, Collins introduce bill to authorize delayed VA medical leases

congressU.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) led a group of 15 senators to reintroduce the bipartisan Providing Veterans Overdue Care Act, legislation that would authorize pending leases for 24 Department of Veterans Affairs (V-A) 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 V-A to open needed healthcare facilities for which the V-A has been seeking congressional approval for more than a year.

Under law, the V-A 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 V-A 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.

“Despite progress the V-A 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 V-A. 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 Sen. 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 114thCongress, and Sen. Warner and his colleagues have repeatedly urged Congressional leaders not to allow this scorekeeping issue to further delay congressional action on the authorizations.

Among the leases that are included in the legislation is a 155,000 square foot outpatient facility in Hampton Roads, Va., which has one of the fastest-growing veterans populations in the country. From 2012 to 2016, patient visits in Hampton’s service area increased by 21.4 percent, while the national average across the V-A system was 7.3 percent.

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

In addition to Sens. Warner and Collins, the legislation is co-sponsored by Sens. Michael Bennett (D-CO), Richard Burr (R-NC), Steve Daines (R-MT), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Gary Peters (D-MI), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

The bill text is available here.

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