Bost Delivers Opening Remarks at Oversight Hearing to Examine VA’s Infrastructure
Today, Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, delivered the following opening statement, as prepared, at the start of the Committee’s oversight hearing to assess the Department of Veterans Affairs infrastructure:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good afternoon and welcome to our witnesses today.
We are here to discuss V.A.’s infrastructure challenges.
For our Committee, this conversation is about more than just buildings and bridges.
It is about how best to care for veterans.
Last year, 7.2 million veterans sought care through V.A.
The V.A. healthcare system has a massive physical footprint across the country and in our territories.
The average V.A. medical facility is 58 years old.
That is decades older than medical facilities in the private sector.
The age and condition of many V.A. hospitals and clinics do not support the provision of the highest quality, modern medical care.
That is unacceptable.
Every member of this Committee has heard about cramped exam and waiting rooms, collapsing roofs, burst pipes, or defective heating and cooling in V.A. medical centers.
Despite record budgets year after year, that has not changed.
In 2015, VA was facing a $51 billion capital need through 2025.
Today, we are spending about $80 billion more on V.A. overall and $2 billion more on maintenance than we were then.
In spite of that, V.A.’s capital needs have increased.
They now total at least $62 billion over the next 10 years.
Something is wrong.
It takes V.A. a decade or more to build a new hospital.
No medical center replacement has been completed since the Denver catastrophe.
The next one under construction is in Louisville.
It was originally proposed in 2004.
VA bought the land in 2012.
Ground has still not been broken.
Leasing is not much better.
VA typically pays developers to build clinics and leases them back.
That takes at least five years.
Without a doubt, veterans deserve better.
In 2018, Congress passed the Asset and Infrastructure Review, or AIR, Act.
AIR establishes an objective, data-driven process to realign and modernize V.A. medical facilities to better serve veterans.
The enactment of the AIR Act three years ago was a massive bipartisan success.
Many of the AIR Act deadlines will occur in the next two years.
For example, V.A. will publish the criteria that will be used to recommend facility changes next week.
We have to fix the deep problems with V.A. construction and leasing.
That alone will take years.
We should prioritize maintenance since every dollar spent to maintain infrastructure goes a long way when properly managed.
If we repair a roof today, it could prevent a structural catastrophe tomorrow.
But, any new efforts to fix V.A.’s infrastructure issues must be in line with the recommendations made by the AIR Commission, full stop.
In early April, President Biden proposed an infrastructure package.
The White House has allocated $18 billion for V.A. within that $1.9 trillion proposal.
How and where that money may be spent is very important.
We still don’t have details weeks after it was announced.
This Administration continues to set a terrible precedent by going around the budget process and proposing mountains of taxpayer spending without a molehill’s worth of justification.
Congress has to stop signing blank checks.
It is the difference between throwing money at a problem and making a lasting impact for our veterans.
Based on the American Rescue Plan experience, I am skeptical.
VA still cannot tell us exactly how all that $17.1 billion will be spent.
Speaker Pelosi once said, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”
That is no way to conduct the people’s business.
And it is no way to improve care for our nation’s veterans.
Mr. Chairman, I yield back.