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Hon. Charles Boustany, Jr., M.D.

Hon. Charles Boustany, Jr., M.D.

Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Filner and Committee Members--

Thank you for providing me the opportunity to submit written testimony.  I am honored to provide remarks regarding this very important issue. 

Louisiana veterans should not have to drive for hours to receive care in VA Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOC).  As a cardiothoracic surgeon with previous experience treating veterans in U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) facilities, I know they deserve better, localized care, so I’ve worked hard to speed veterans’ access to local medical clinics.  I am outraged to learn VA errors will delay the construction of two new CBOCs in my district - Lafayette and Lake Charles.

In a January 7, 2011 bi-monthly status update from the VA, Louisiana Director Gracie Specks states in regard to the Lake Charles CBOC, “Proposals have been received in response to the solicitation for offer (SFO).  Purchasing and Contracting is in the process of reviewing these proposals.  Evaluation team selection is to begin on January 10, 2011.  Once assembled the source selection team will begin the evaluation of the proposal, establish the competitive range, negotiate and select the successful offeror.  The evaluation and selection of offeror will take anywhere from 30 to 60 days.  It is anticipated that any build out will take approximately 13 months from the date of award.  We anticipate the opening of the Lake Charles CBOC to patient care in July 2012.”

In addition, on March 9, 2010, the following bi-monthly status update from Director Specks stated in regard to the Lafayette CBOC, “A Technical Evaluation Board (TEB) was established to review the proposals received in response to the solicitation for offer (SFO).  The TEB is responsible for evaluating and ranking the proposals based on the evaluation criteria in the SFO.  The TEB will prepare a report with the decision/final evaluation and selection of offeror.  The decision has been made and the offeror selected will be notified on or about June 3, 2011 and the negotiations between the parties (the VAMC and selected offeror) will commence at that time.  It is expected that negotiations will take 30-60 calendar days to complete.” 

On March 26, 2010, after noticeable delays in the solicitation process for both the Lafayette and Lake Charles CBOCs, I called VA Central Office Real Property Service officials into my office for an explanation.  The meeting was productive and I received a commitment from the VA Real Property Services that the CBOCs in my district were a high priority and would be followed with a close eye from VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. 

However, almost two years later on March 7, 2012, I received an update from Director Specks stating, “Regrettably during the legal review of the Lake Charles CBOC lease package, it was determined that there were significant errors in the Solicitation For Offers (SFO).  This same SFO was used for the Lafayette CBOC as well.”  Making matters worse, these “errors” reportedly happened because VA officials completed the wrong form at the start of the process.    

Director Specks continues, “These issues have necessitated the cancellation of both SFO’s for Lake Charles and Lafayette CBOC’s and a re-announcement of a revised SFO for both clinics.  In order to avoid the same issues with the revised SFO’s, VA Central Office’s Real Property Service will be responsible for the SFO’s and subsequent contracting process and execution of the lease.  As a result, there will be further delays associated with the opening of the Lake Charles and Lafayette CBOC’s.  Real Property Service has indicated that it may take a minimum of 12 months to complete the procurement process.”  According to the VA’s own estimated time and errors, it will be at least three years until the opening of the clinics from the time VA Real Property Service pledged to me to carefully guide and expedite the process and when the doors will open at each clinic. 

It is time for VA upper management to fully explain why it allowed this to happen.  With so much at stake for veterans, why didn’t the VA require its employees to double check for their own errors long before they submitted a completed proposal to VA attorneys for final approval?  I suspect Lake Charles and Lafayette aren’t isolated examples, and that they are a symptom of larger management problems with the VA. Congress should demand more transparency and accountability.  

VA officials claim they will try to expedite the new solicitation for offers.  However, Louisiana veterans deserve specifics from the VA Secretary – not more empty assurances and bureaucratic jargon.  I hope this committee will press the VA Secretary to explain plans to speed the construction of promised clinics and to tell us how he will prevent this avoidable error from affecting any veteran in the future.

The Committee should use this unique opportunity to make the changes that need to be made now – so that future solicitations for veterans’ facilities will not be compromised at the expense of those who fought for our freedom.