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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."
Editor's note: A combat wounded veteran, Ryan served in the U.S. Army as an armor officer assigned to 1st Battalion, 13th Armor Regiment. While deployed to Iraq in 2005, his vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device buried in the road. He works as the Wounded Warrior Project's national Combat Stress Recovery Program director.
On Nov. 29, 2005, my life changed forever. I was a 24-year-old U.S. Army armor captain deployed to Taji, Iraq, when my vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device. On that day, I lost two of my soldiers, Sgts. Jerry Mills and Donald Hasse, and I lost my right arm and left leg.
Fatal training accidents are on the rise. Now the families of the fallen are pushing lawmakers to do something about it
CAMP PENDLETON — Susan and Michael McDowell attended a memorial in June for their son, 1st Lt. Conor McDowell. Kathleen Isabel Bourque, the love of Conor's life, joined them. None of them had anticipated what they would be going through.
Conor, the McDowells' only child, was killed during a vehicle rollover accident in the Las Pulgas area of Camp Pendleton during routine Marine training on May 9. He was 24.
Just weeks before that emotional ceremony, Alexandrina Braica, her husband and five children attended a similar memorial at the same military base, this to honor Staff Sgt. Joshua Braica, a member of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion who also was killed in a rollover accident, April 13, at age 29.
Braica, of Sacramento, was married and had a 4 1/2-month-old son.
"To see the love they had for Josh and to see the respect and appreciation was very emotional," Alexandrina Braica said of the battalion. "They spoke very highly of him and what a great leader he was. One of his commanders said, 'He was already the man he was because of the way he was raised.' As parents, we were given some credit."
While the tributes helped the McDowells and Braicas process their grief, the families remain unclear about what caused the training fatalities. They expected their sons eventually would deploy and put their lives at risk, but they didn't expect either would die while training on base.
"We're all still in denial, 'Did this really happen? Is he really gone?' Braica said. "When I got the phone call, Josh was not on my mind. That's why we were at peace. He was always in training and I never felt that it would happen at Camp Pendleton."
North Korea threatens to resume nuclear weapons and ICBM tests if US-South Korea military exercises proceed
SEOUL (Reuters) - The United States looks set to break a promise not to hold military exercises with South Korea, putting talks aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons at risk, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.
The United States' pattern of "unilaterally reneging on its commitments" is leading Pyongyang to reconsider its own commitments to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the ministry said in a pair of statements released through state news agency KCNA.
Customs and Border Patrol denied a Marine vet entry into the US for his a scheduled citizenship interview
A deported Marine Corps veteran who has been unable to come back to the U.S. for more than a decade was denied entry to the country Monday morning when he asked to be let in for a scheduled citizenship interview.
Roman Sabal, 58, originally from Belize, came to the San Ysidro Port of Entry around 7:30 on Monday morning with an attorney to ask for "parole" to attend his naturalization interview scheduled for a little before noon in downtown San Diego. Border officials have the authority to temporarily allow people into the country on parole for "humanitarian or significant public benefit" reasons.
Navy Secretary Richard Spencer took the reins at the Pentagon on Monday, becoming the third acting defense secretary since January.
Spencer is expected to temporarily lead the Pentagon while the Senate considers Army Secretary Mark Esper's nomination to succeed James Mattis as defense secretary. The Senate officially received Esper's nomination on Monday.