WASHINGTON — How good is the health care provided at the VA for veterans? It’s a question that’s been asked for years now, especially in the wake of wait-time issues at some hospitals across the country.
According to the latest figures, nine million Americans are enrolled in VA health care.
There are more than 1,200 VA hospitals and clinics nationwide.
However, when you talk to experts, there is an emerging problem with the infrastructure of many facilities.
"Many of those were built 50 years ago, on average, and a lot need upgrades," said Carrie Farmer, a veterans policy analyst with the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group.
Farmer says many VA buildings are old.
In fact, a study by RAND found the average VA medical facility is five times older than the average age of a not-for-profit hospital building.
Farmer said old buildings, not surprisingly, create problems and delays in care.
Women veterans have been particularly impacted, she said.
"The pace of health care technology is great and so these buildings need upgrades to keep pace with this technology," Farmer said.
"When these buildings were built there were very few women veterans and now women are making an increasingly larger share. Women do have specific health needs that men don’t have," she added.
In fact, a 2017 study in Women’s Health Issues found 26% of female veterans feeling “uncomfortable” at a VA facility.
Separate studies have found doctors reporting issues with treating traumatic brain injuries simply because the building they are in can’t handle new technology or techniques.
WILL CONGRESS ADDRESS IT?
This issue is part of the massive multi-trillion-dollar spending proposal on Capitol Hill.
The Senate budget resolution includes $18 billion for infrastructure upgrades at VA facilities.
Democrats want to raise taxes on higher-income earners in order to pay for it.
Republicans have suggested the spending is way too much and are opposed.
Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs is beginning a separate process of identifying where the upgrades are needed the most.
CRACKING DOWN ON WASTE
The Department of Veterans Affairs, throughout its history, has had some issues with spending taxpayer money efficiently.
For instance, a newly-built VA hospital in Aurora, Colorado was more than $1 billion over budget when it opened in 2018.
But since then, new laws have been passed which ban the VA from overseeing projects of that size and scope, instead, other government agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers will take over because of their experience.
The fight over money will dominate politics on Capitol Hill for much of the fall.
Members from both the House and Senate are out of Washington this week.