Veterans

Nearly $20 billion for VA hospital upgrades in Biden infrastructure plan

President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan includes more than $18 billion for upgrades to Veterans Affairs medical centers, work that veterans advocates have said is long overdue.

The ambitious package — dubbed the American Jobs Plan — will be detailed by Biden in a speech Wednesday afternoon. White House officials said the goal of the spending is to “create millions of good jobs, rebuild our country’s infrastructure, and position the United States to out-compete China.”

Along with major investments in projects to rebuild American highways, ports and airports, the proposal calls for “vastly improving our nation’s federal facilities, especially those that serve veterans.”

Administration officials noted that while the median age of private-sector hospitals in America today is about 11 years, the median age of VA hospitals is roughly 58 years. The $18 billion would be spread over a variety of modernization and new construction projects, with the goal of providing better facilities for VA medical care.

“There is a backlog of high-efficiency projects that would help increase the health security of our veterans, put people back to work, and achieve an important national project,” officials said in a statement.

The White House did not release a list of specific VA projects the money may be assigned to. However, construction work on VA facilities has been a concern among veterans groups for years.

In February, officials from Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Veterans of Foreign Wars released their annual list of budget suggestions for VA, including more than $2.8 billion in major construction work — more than double what the department is scheduled to spend in fiscal 2021.

The group has also identified more than $7 billion in “seismic corrections” at VA medical centers across the country. In 2015, the VA Inspector General identified nearly 100 sites (mostly in the western United States) that could face serious risks from an earthquake.

Biden’s proposed VA infrastructure spending comes just a few months before the White House is scheduled to name members of an Asset and Infrastructure Commission for VA, A panel styled after the military’s base closure commission that will be tasked with reviewing the department’s buildings nationwide.

The commissioners (who will need Senate approval before starting their work) will spend seven months compiling their recommendations, which will be followed by a series of public hearings on potential facility closings or expansions. Final decisions on changes are expected in 2023.

How Biden’s new funding plans will factor into those decisions is unclear. If approved by Congress, portions of the American Jobs Plan would begin to be implemented this year. However, some VA facilities in need of upgrades could be on the list of places recommended for closure in coming years, calling into question the value of costly upgrades.

The White House is expected to release its fiscal 2022 plan for funding VA operations sometime next month.

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