Chairman Roe, Ranking Member Walz, and distinguished members of the committee, On behalf of our National Commander, Charles E. Schmidt, and the over 2 million members of The American Legion, we thank you for this opportunity to testify regarding The American Legion’s views on “Care Where It Counts: Assessing VA’s Capital Asset Needs”.
Each year since 2003, The American Legion System Worth Saving (SWS) program has conducted site visits to VA Health Care facilities across the country and one thing we find in common is that VA has an enormous amount of aging buildings that are either underutilized or vacant. VA has a large inventory of buildings that are over a half-century old resulting in significant costs for upgrades and needed replacement of many parts of the facilities aging infrastructure.
In 1866, the United States Congress established the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (NHDVS), the precursor of the VA, to provide medical and other facilities for veterans of the American Civil War. Three centers were established in the following years: the Eastern branch in Togus, Maine, the Central Branch in Dayton, and the Northwestern Branch in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Dayton facility was the administrative center of the home and its principal commissary. Today these facilities still deliver health care to our nation’s veterans, and all have been designated by the National Historical Society as a historical site.
Medical Centers like the Phoenix VA, which first opened its doors in 1951 was built on 27 acres of the Indian School Reservation. After the medical center had been built, the community was built around the medical center leaving the medical center landlocked resulting in VA’s inability to expand their footprint which is the case with a lot of VA properties.
Today, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is the largest integrated health care system in the United States, providing care at 1,233 health care facilities, including 168 VA Medical Centers and 1,065 outpatient sites of care of varying complexity (VHA outpatient clinics), serving more than 8.9 million veterans. In spite of the exceptional health care VA provides, its aging infrastructure with a number of buildings being underutilized or vacant, creates problems for VA to maximize the use of its capital assets.
In a 2015 House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) budget hearing, Secretary McDonald said that the VA had 336 buildings across the country that are less than half-occupied, and many are not being utilized to their full potential. Additionally, it apparently costs more than 24 million dollars a…