American Legion National Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division Deputy Director Roscoe Butler testified before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on July 12 in Washington, D.C., to address the capital asset needs of the VA.
“Each year since 2003, The American Legion’s System Worth Saving (SWS) program has conducted site visits to VA health care facilities across the country,” Roscoe said. “One thing we find in common is that VA has an enormous amount of aging buildings that are either underutilized or vacant. The 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 spite of the exceptional health care that VA provides, Roscoe said its aging infrastructure creates problems in terms of maximizing the use of capital assets. In 2016, VA had 403 vacant buildings at an annual operating cost of $6,674,227 and 784 underutilized buildings at an annual operation cost of $20,266,271, according to information provided by VA.
“If there were unlimited funding, the easy answer would be to dispose of all of VA’s vacant buildings and build new modern facilities,” he said. “But the reality is that funding is not unlimited and there are no easy answers to these issues.”
In 2016, The American Legion renewed Resolution No. 136 which urges Congress to provide increased appropriations annually to address VA construction deficiencies and gaps identified by VA’s Strategic Capital Investment Planning (SCIP) program.
Roscoe said VA includes activation costs in their future SCIP cost projections and allocations. In order to offset lack of funding and continue to be transparent about SCIP’s progress, the VA publicly posts information about these projects and costs on an annual basis.
Based on the Legion’s review, Roscoe said addressing VA’s capital asset needs is not a new phenomenon. There have been numerous government reports over the last 26 years addressing this same topic.
The American Legion calls on Congress and VA to place high value on VA’s historic national properties.
“VA must do better involving veterans service organizations in these discussions,” Roscoe said. “Twenty-six years later, we are still trying to find solutions to VA’s capital asset needs. The American Legion hopes it doesn’t take another 26 years to find solutions to those needs.”