Opening Statement of Hon. Jeff Miller, Ranking Republican Member, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Florida
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Access to different types of outpatient and inpatient facilities is critical in addressing the unique health care needs of our changing veteran population. However, most of VA’s infrastructure was built more than 50 years ago. Many of these aging facilities are not well suited to 21st century health care, in need of repair or replacement, and sometimes simply located far from where the veterans live.
Recognizing the need to improve and update VA’s patient care facilities, and address identified gaps in services, VA established the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) process. The CARES planning model was intended to provide a blueprint for the resources needed to meet the future veteran demand for health care services. VA has started implementing some CARES decisions and is moving to open more than 32 of the 156 outpatient care clinics identified by CARES. Still, there are far too many instances of veterans driving several hours for primary care, and even more instances of long commutes for acute inpatient care.
VA must maintain a flexible approach to its current and future construction. At times, a solution for providing exceptional care will be obvious. At other times, VA will need to explore potential partnerships and other agreements whereby resources and funding are not needlessly wasted and veterans and taxpayers alike get the best return.
My concern still remains for areas such as Okaloosa County in my district in Northwest Florida. While a VA outpatient clinic that will serve the basic needs of the roughly 50,000 veterans in that surrounding area is currently under construction, these same patients still have to drive over three hours to receive any sort of VA inpatient care. It has been more than three years since CARES identified this region as underserved for inpatient care. In fact, it is the only market area in the VISN, VISN 16, without a medical center.
There is a tremendous opportunity to collaborate with the Department of Defense (DOD) for inpatient medical services on the campus of Eglin Air Force Base that would benefit both veterans and active duty service members in this region. The collaboration would expand VA/DOD sharing in a cost-effective manner and provide long overdue inpatient care to veterans in Northwest Florida.
It is my sincere wish that VA constantly monitor and adjust its construction efforts to best meet the geographic and health care needs of veterans throughout the entire nation, especially those who face the most difficulty in obtaining access to that health care.
I look forward to today’s testimony, and would also like to give a special welcome to Major General David Eidsaune who joins us from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida’s first congressional district.