Return of BRAC?
The idea for a commission to look at VA facilities is not new. In recent years both the Commission on Care and the Independent Assessment of the Healthcare Delivery Systems and Management Processes of the Department of Veterans Affairs report, have suggested that VA should consider establishing a board or commission similar to the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) to address policy issues such as hospital closures.
VA Secretary David J. Shulkin, MD, also has been telling lawmakers that there is a need to dispose of VA facilities that are currently underused. He announced earlier this year that VA had identified 430 individual vacant buildings that it plans to demolish or set for reuse. In addition and the agency’s plan to review another 784 nonvacant but underutilized buildings to determine if additional efficiencies can be identified to be reinvested in veterans’ services.
Shulkin has said VA will work with Congress to develop a modernization plan to allow the agency to use its “buildings in a better way” and to “stop supporting vacant buildings and underutilized buildings.”
Still, VHA Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Policy and Planning Regan L Crump told lawmakers during the hearing that VA “is not yet clear” on the need for a commission but does seek “legislative flexibility” to support a thorough assessment.
“The draft bill includes many thoughtful features that could serve as useful benchmarks for the market analysis which is what we will use to gather focused, localized and objective data for decision-making,” Crump said, adding that VA would defer to Congress on a potential commission structure and process.
Regarding details of the draft bill, Crump said VA would “be pleased to follow up with the committee to provide more in-depth comments and technical assistance.”
Meanwhile, veterans’ service organizations also weighed in on the issue.
“The American Legion is rarely a fan of congressionally-appointed committees, and this is no different,” American Legion Louis J. Celli Jr., director, Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division for The American Legion. “Fundamentally, we oppose establishing a committee to oversee this process, but if establishing a committee or commission becomes the necessary concession to moving forward, I cannot stress strongly enough that the American Legion will absolutely not support a commission whereby congressionally charted VSOs … are not empowered to have collective veto power over what could turn into a runaway committee.”
Paralyzed Veterans of America Associate Executive Director of Government Relations Carl Blake said that his organization recognizes the need to review facilities as a “necessary evil.”
“We don’t oppose what you are trying to do, [but] we would like to see some refinements to this legislation,” he said.
Among the changes would be more time allotted for VA’s assessment, Blake said, noting that a year was not enough.
Joy Ilem, deputy national legislative director for Disabled American Veterans (DAV) recommended that rather than a “comprehensive, all-or-nothing, one-time infrastructure review process, VA needs to have the authority and flexibility to make decisions through an iterative process as demand for care and market conditions continue to evolve over time.”
“Specifically, we recommend that facility recommendations by the secretary be done in phases, with the first phase consisting of buildings and properties that are currently unused or significantly underused,” she explained in written testimony.
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