Sens. Collins, Warner Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Authorize Delayed VA Medical Leases

The legislation, cosponsored by Sen. King, would authorize 24 new facilities, including one in Portland, to serve an estimated 11 million veterans

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led a bipartisan group of 15 Senators, including Senator Angus King (I-ME), to reintroduce the bipartisan Providing Veterans Overdue Care Act. The legislation would authorize pending leases for 24 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities, the majority of which have been awaiting Congressional approval for more than a year. These medical facilities—located in 15 states, including Maine—are necessary to improve veterans’ access to vital health care services.

Under law, the VA must receive specific legislative authorization to lease medical facilities with average annual rental payments in excess of $1 million. However, since 2012, Congress has not, through a regular process, authorized any major VA medical facility leases, hampering the ability of the department to provide much-needed health care and services to veterans around the country. The 24 leases pending before Congress are located in states with an estimated 11 million veterans.

“Veterans deserve convenient access to the high-quality health care they have earned through their service. That is why I continue to urge my colleagues to support the authorization of these leases for vital medical facilities across the country, including in Portland, ME,” said Senator Collins. “These facilities, such as the proposed CBOC in Portland, will allow veterans to receive outpatient care without the stress and difficulty of traveling to larger VA medical centers, which may be located far away from their homes.”

“Despite progress the VA has made in recent years to improve access, too many veterans in Virginia and across the country are still waiting too long to get medical care through the VA. While we have been able to reduce waiting times in the Hampton Roads region, we have a larger challenge ahead as the veteran population in the area grows at roughly four times the national average,” said Senator Warner. “Veterans deserve a new outpatient facility in South Hampton Roads to help ease some of the burden at Hampton VAMC, and Congress needs to make the approval of these two dozen pending leases a top priority. Our veterans expect better from us, and this bill is a good step in the effort to improve veteran’s access to the services they have earned through their service to this country.”

“Maine veterans have fought to preserve the freedom and liberties that we cherish every day. They shouldn’t also have to fight for access to quality and convenient health care,” Senator King said. “That’s why it’s unacceptable to me that important facilities like the proposed Portland CBOC remain unauthorized, especially when there are so many veterans in need. I will continue to work with my colleagues to see that these facilities are authorized and that Maine veterans are able to receive the care they not only need, but have earned.”

One reason for the delay in congressional authorization has been a recent change in the way that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scores these leases. Prior to 2012, the major medical facility leases were scored on an annual basis, but that year, CBO determined that budget authority for these leases, many of which cover a 20-year period, should be recorded up front when the leases are initiated and the acquisition occurs, not when the debt is repaid. As such, scoring for legislation that authorized these leases increased significantly, even though actual spending would not increase and the leases are ultimately subject to annual appropriations.

The Providing Veterans Overdue Care Act was previously introduced by Senators Collins and Warner in the 114th Congress.

The proposed CBOC in Portland would consolidate the existing Saco and Portland CBOCs and enhance VA outpatient services. The lease would increase veterans’ access to a core set of services and additional specialty care in a state-of-the-art, energy efficient health care facility in the Portland area. The planned full deployment of tele-medicine technologies in the new clinic would further improve veterans’ access to care in rural locations throughout Maine. Although Senator Collins secured funding for the proposed Portland CBOC last year, it cannot move forward without authorization.

The bill would authorize the following leases:

• Ann Arbor, MI - Outpatient Clinic
• Birmingham, AL - Outpatient Mental Health Clinic
• Birmingham, AL - Outpatient Specialty Clinic
• Boston, MA – Research Space
• Charleston, SC – Research Space
• Corpus Christi, TX – Replacement Outpatient Clinic
• Daytona Beach, FL - Outpatient Clinic
• Denver, CO - Chief Business Office Purchased Care
• Gainesville, FL - Outpatient Clinic
• Hampton Roads, VA - Outpatient Clinic
• Jacksonville, FL – Outpatient Clinic
• Mission Bay, CA – Research Space
• Missoula, MT - Outpatient Clinic
• Northern Colorado, CO - Outpatient Clinic
• Ocala, FL - Outpatient Clinic
• Oxnard, CA - Outpatient Clinic
• Pike County, GA - Outpatient Clinic
• Pontiac, MI – Outpatient Clinic
Portland, ME - Outpatient Clinic
• Raleigh, NC - Outpatient Clinic
• Rochester, NY – Outpatient Clinic
• Santa Rosa, CA - Outpatient Clinic
• Tampa, FL – Outpatient Clinic
• Terre Haute, IN – Outpatient Clinic

In addition to Sens. Collins and Warner, the legislation is co-sponsored by Sens. Michael Bennett (D-CO), Richard Burr (R-NC), Steve Daines (R-MT), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Gary Peters (D-MI), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

The bill text is available here.