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VA Secretary Tells Congress He Wants To Close 1,165 Veterans’ Facilities
Citing a potential $25 million in savings — less than .03% of his department’s annual budget — VA Secretary David Shulkin told Congress Wednesday he was considering shuttering more than 1,100 department facilities across the country, seen as a first step in expanding private medical options for patients in the VA system.
Shulkin said the VA had identified more than 430 vacant buildings and 735 that he described as underutilized, costing the federal government $25 million a year. He said the VA would work with Congress in prioritizing buildings for closure and was considering whether to follow a process the Pentagon had used in recent decades to decide which of its underused military bases to shutter, known as Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC.
"Whether BRAC is a model that we should take a look, we're beginning that discussion with members of Congress," Shulkin told a House appropriations subcommittee. "We want to stop supporting our use of maintenance of buildings we don't need, and we want to reinvest that in buildings we know have capital needs."
The White House has proposed raising VA’s discretionary budget by 6% next year to $78.9 billion, making it one of only a few cabinet departments that wouldn’t face daunting cuts.
But Shulkin and the Trump administration have both signaled a willingness to find greater efficiencies in veterans health care, including shutting down programs and broadening private-sector partnerships.
A BRAC-style process to close down VA buildings would be nothing new. In 2000, at the request of the General Accounting Office, the department rolled out CARES, the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services initiative, to review and shutter unused facilities, particularly as vets in the VA care system underwent fewer inpatient procedures in government buildings.
Over more than a decade, CARES reduced the VA’s square footage and property outlays significantly, although the program was occasionally forced to backtrack on controversial recommendations — notably, when it sought to shut down a long-running VA medical center in Waco, Texas.
But there was another major problem with CARES: It actually ended up costing the VA a lot of money.
“According to VA officials, rather than show that VA should downsize its capital asset portfolio, the CARES process revealed service gaps and needed infrastructure improvements,” a 2009 GAO report found.
Shulkin, whose reform-minded moves to bring innovation and greater hiring accountability to VA have won him early plaudits from veteran advocates, didn’t go into detail on how VA facility closures might work. But his invocation of BRAC — a painful, often contentious process that’s shuttered military bases and impacted their communities heavily over the years — didn’t sit well with some members of Congress, according to the AP.
"Don't ever use the term BRAC because it brings up a lot of bad memories," Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska — a state long targeted for BRAC closures — warned Shulkin. "You automatically set yourself up for a lot of controversy."
The Air Force's top general says one of the designers of the ride-sharing app Uber is helping the branch build a new data-sharing network that the Air Force hopes will help service branches work together to detect and destroy targets.
The network, which the Air Force is calling the advanced battle management system (ABMS), would function a bit like the artificial intelligence construct Cortana from Halo, who identifies enemy ships and the nearest assets to destroy them at machine speed, so all the fleshy humans need to do is give a nod of approval before resuming their pipe-smoking.
An F-15 is rocking a WWII paint job to honor a B-17 pilot who gave his life to save a wounded crewman
An F-15C Eagle is sporting a badass World War II-era paint job in honor of a fallen bomber pilot who gave everything to ensure his men survived a deadly battle.
A U.S. E-11A Battlefield Airborne Communications Node aircraft crashed on Monday on Afghanistan, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein has confirmed.
Beloved basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven other people were killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California on Sunday. Two days earlier, Army Spc. Antonio I. Moore was killed during a vehicle rollover accident while conducting route clearing operations in Syria.
Which one more deserves your grief and mourning? According to Maj. Gen. John R. Evans, commander of the U.S. Army Cadet Command, you only have enough energy for one.
After 70 years, service members are finally filing medical malpractice claims against the US military
Jessica Purcell, a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, was pregnant with her first child when she noticed a swollen lymph node in her left underarm.
Health-care providers at a MacDill Air Force Base clinic told her it was likely an infection or something related to pregnancy hormones. The following year they determined the issue had resolved itself.
It hadn't. A doctor off base found a large mass in her underarm and gave her a shocking diagnosis: stage 2 breast cancer.
Purcell was pregnant again. Her daughter had just turned 1. She was 35. And she had no right to sue for malpractice.
A 1950 Supreme Court ruling known as the Feres doctrine prohibits military members like Purcell from filing a lawsuit against the federal government for any injuries suffered while on active duty. That includes injury in combat, but also rape and medical malpractice, such as missing a cancer diagnosis.
Thanks in part to Tampa lawyer Natalie Khawam, a provision in this year's national defense budget allows those in active duty to file medical malpractice claims against the government for the first time since the Feres case.
With the Department of Defense overseeing the new claims process, the question now is how fairly and timely complaints will be judged. And whether, in the long run, this new move will help growing efforts to overturn the ruling and allow active duty members to sue like everyone else.