A pair of Democratic senators want Veterans Affairs officials to start better preparing for climate change, noting that extreme weather events have already disrupted operations at a host of department sites.
“VA, like all federal agencies, has finite resources and must balance competing budget priorities. However, those priorities must include adapting VA infrastructure and operations to climate risks,” Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Brian Schatz of Hawaii wrote in a letter to VA leadership today.
“Strengthening VA’s resilience to climate change is consistent with the agency’s mission to deliver timely, high-quality care and benefits to America’s veterans.”
Veterans in counties hit hard by the fall hurricanes will see their cases advanced quickly in coming months.
The lawmakers are asking for a comprehensive evaluation of the department’s climate change preparation plans in the last five years, when officials in the last administration released reports on threats posed by future climate patterns to all government agencies.
They noted that VA has released several updates on efforts to operate environmentally-friendly facilities, but did not include how altered weather patterns and extreme storms could hurt existing locations.
“Natural disasters and extreme weather events have adversely affected VA infrastructure and operations at facilities across the country in recent years, including in Louisiana, Texas, New York, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Puerto Rico,” the letter stated.
Most of those referenced events are short-term closures of VA health facilities in the lead-up and aftermath of severe storms. Several Florida and North Carolina sites have had to temporarily close for repairs due to wind and water damage the senators argue are connected to global climate pattern changes.
The San Juan medical center, hub of care for more than 93,000 veterans in the Caribbean, saw only minor damage from the Category 4 storm.
In addition, VA officials were faced with significant supply and staffing issues in the wake of the category 4 hurricane that hit Puerto Rico in 2017.
Schatz, who is ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s veterans panel, and Warren, who is running for president on a platform that includes more aggressive climate change policies, want to know how much those types of weather issues are being taken into account in new construction and how much past damage from storms has totaled in each of the last few fiscal years.
Similar requests have been made of Department of Defense planners and officials at other federal agencies as President Donald Trump’s administration has worked to reverse or revoke a number of executive orders related to the issue, arguing they amounted to redundant or unapplicable work for the agencies.