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Chairman Roe Calls for Top-To-Bottom Review of VHA Capital Assets

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Today, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, chaired by Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.), held a hearing to assess VA's capital asset needs.

Below are Chairman Roe's opening remarks from the hearing:

Opening Remarks As Prepared for Delivery

Welcome and thank you all for joining us for today’s hearing entitled, “Care Where It Counts: Assessing the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA’s) Capital Asset Needs.”

Though this morning’s hearing is ostensibly about VA’s management of its extensive capital asset portfolio, it is actually about something else altogether – patient care. 

VA is one of the federal government’s largest property-holding entities, with a capital asset portfolio that includes thousands of medical facilities spanning hundreds of millions of square feet in both owned and leased space across the country.

Managing and maintaining those properties and aligning them to meet ever changing shifts in patient population and in healthcare demand and delivery is increasingly complex and costly. 

The average VA medical facility building is five times older than the average building in a not-for-profit hospital system in this country and was designed and built to meet very different healthcare needs and delivery models than we see today.

The consequences of this have been well-documented in recent years by entities including the Independent Assessment, the Commission on Care, and the Government Accountability Office.

To wit:

- All too often, current facilities - including those that have been well-maintained - are not equipped to support to the provision of modern, high-quality care and are not well-suited to providing care in the current VA healthcare system.

- VA does not consistently allocate capital to projects that address the greatest areas of veteran need in the most cost effective and timely manner;

- There is a wide and growing gap between VA’s capital need and anticipated resources; and,

- Previous efforts to review and realign VA capital assets have failed. 

What’s more, due to shifts in the veteran population, VA spends millions of dollars - taxpayer dollars - every year maintaining buildings that are empty or largely so.

That led the Commission on Care to include this startling statement in their final report last year: “VHA’s principal mission is to provide health care to veterans, yet over time it has acquired an ancillary mission: caretaker of an extensive portfolio of vacant buildings."

That is an extraordinary statement.

VA’s primary mission is caring for veteran patients and it is those patients – veteran patients - who bear the brunt of the consequences of VA’s lacking physical infrastructure.

We can no longer continue to allow VA’s outdated, inflexible, and ill-suited capital asset program to compromise the Department’s core mission and the care provided to millions of our veterans.

That is why I am calling this morning for a top-to-bottom review of all Veterans Health Administration capital assets.  

This is not something for VA - or her champions - to fear.

As one of our witnesses - former VA Secretary Anthony Principi - will testify this morning, “[va] will fail to honor our nation’s commitment to its veterans if VA’s medical system does not evolve with the times.”

Rather than continuing to invest valuable resources on infrastructure that - in many cases  - is long past its prime, we need to take an objective view of all VA medical facilities and smartly plan for where and how we can divest of buildings and property that are no longer needed and - more importantly - for where and how we can grow to ensure that VA medical facilities remain strong assets in communities across the country and are equipped to provide the care and services veterans need.

As the veteran population continues to shift, care continues to evolve, VA’s infrastructure continues to age, and veteran demand for care in the community continues to grow, a capital asset review and realignment, free of political influence, is critical to ensuring that the VA healthcare system remains strong and sustainable for veterans today and tomorrow. 

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