WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs will share construction costs for a new Nebraska health clinic with a local non-profit group in what administration officials are touting as a step towards fulfilling their promise of saving taxpayer money without sacrificing veterans' care.
The project, based at the Omaha VA Medical Center campus, was actually signed into law by President Barack Obama last December and spearheaded by the state's congressional delegation.
It will replace previous department plans for a $560 million replacement for the hospital that was originally scheduled to open next year, but has been delayed numerous times by funding problems related to other VA construction projects.
VA officials said the new plans to build an $86 million ambulatory care center on the Nebraska campus will fill an essential medical care need for the region without incurring the same level of debt.
About $56 million of federal VA money will go toward the project, with another $30 million coming from the Veterans Ambulatory Center Development Corporation, a Nebraska non-profit lead by local business leaders.
The framework for the partnership has been known since December, when Obama signed legislation authorizing the move. The partnership with VACDC became official today.
"This trailblazing project represents another example of the bold changes happening at VA," Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said in a statement.
"This project will lay the groundwork for future public-private partnerships aimed at providing veterans access to state-of-the-art facilities and will significantly improve the quality of care we are able to provide to our nation’s veterans."
The Omaha initiative is the first of five approved by Congress using public and private money for future construction projects.
Shulkin and key congressional leaders have pledged in recent months to expand VA’s partnerships with state and private medical facilities, to both expand the reach of the veterans’ health system and ease access problems facing patients in the system.
But those plans have also raised questions about how prepared private sector physicians are to handle the health care needs of veterans, whose service-connected injuries may be radically different than their normal caseload.
In addition, after President Trump said before his inauguration that he might consider privatizing parts of VA operations, Shulkin has repeatedly vowed that those discussions will not include dismantling or outsourcing his department’s core responsibilities for veterans’ health care. Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress have echoed that sentiment.
VA officials have said the new ambulatory center will offer primary, specialty and outpatient care.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.