The Other Backlog: VA’s Critical Infrastructure

If the Department of Veterans Affairs is to provide high quality, accessible health care for our ill and injured veterans, Congress must provide adequate funding to maintain  current structures and reduce the backlog of critical construction and maintenance projects.

With buildings that have an average age of 60 years, the VA has a monumental task of improving and maintaining these facilities. Those facilities are where our veterans  receive care and are just as important as the doctors, nurses and other VA staff who deliver that care. A VA budget that does not adequately fund facility maintenance and construction needs will reduce the timeliness and quality of care for veterans.

With shrinking requests and appropriations from the Administration and Congress, the VA is falling further behind in maintenance, repairs and safety improvements. Just to maintain the VA’s infrastructure in its current condition, the agency’s Non-Recurring Maintenance account would justify $1.35 billion a year, The Independent Budget and veterans service organizations have calculated. That account is currently funded at $712 million. More funds will need to be invested to prevent the documented $22.4 billion maintenance backlog from growing even larger. The VA’s major construction account doesn’t fare much better. To finish existing projects and to close current and future gaps, the VA will need to invest some $21.7 billion during the next 10 years. At current funding levels, however, between 18 and 22 years will be required to complete the VA’s 10-year plan.

To meet all the minor construction needs within the 10-year timeline, the VA would need to invest $8.5 billion to $10 billion, including an additional $1 billion to the account for this year. If minor construction continues to be funded at the fiscal year 2012 appropriated level, more than 16 years will be required to complete VA’s 10-year plan.

In addition to funding shortfalls, the Strategic Capital Investment Plan, which is intended to help the VA make more informed decisions, lacks a mechanism for a  comprehensive assessment of resources that lie outside of the VA through existing contracts and sharing agreements. Without a comprehensive understanding of the health care resources that exist within and outside of the VA, it would be difficult for the department to make sound decisions on capital investments and rightsize its inventory for the near, mid, and long term. Another apparent flaw of SCIP is the lack of transparency on the costs of future real property priorities, which hinders the VA’s  ability to make informed decisions. This was among the findings in a 2011 report from the Government Accountability Office.

DAV and our grassroots advocates will continue monitoring the levels of funding for each of the VA’s infrastructure accounts to ensure that all current gaps are closed  within 10 years and that emerging and future gaps will have sufficient funding. And we will be ready to spring into action if the need arises.