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.
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."
Benjamin Franklin nailed it when he said, "Fatigue is the best pillow." True story, Benny. There's nothing like pushing your body so far past exhaustion that you'd willingly, even longingly, take a nap on a concrete slab.
Airman 1st Class Isaiah Edwards has been sentenced to 35 years in prison after a military jury found him guilty of murder in connection with the death of a fellow airman in Guam, Air Force officials announced on Tuesday.
A Russian man got drunk as all hell and tried to hijack an airplane on Tuesday, according to Russian news agencies.
So, pretty much your typical day in Siberia. No seriously: As Reuters notes, "drunken incidents involving passengers on commercial flights in Russia are fairly common, though it is unusual for them to result in flights being diverted."