By: Frank McCurdy, National Executive Committeeman, Published February 2015
As we face the New Year, 2015, I believe we should reflect on 2014 as a year of change. The single most important event was the American Legion’s (TAL) request for Secretary Shinseki to resign. That decision, on the part of the National Commander, TAL Leadership, and NEC took courage with potential risk. Remember, TAL and the Vietnam Veterans of America were the only two veteran service organizations (VSOs) with the courage to make the request that Shinseki resign. That event changed the direction of the VA. The decision by the NEC to support the resignation on May 6, 2014 has resulted in two significant events. One is a major overhaul of the VA operationally. Second, the passage of the Choice Act. Now, our new VA Sec. and Deputy VA Sec. are out advocating for the very type of relationship that we have requested; i.e., transparency, accountability, and active communications with the VSOs. Overhauling the VA is no simple matter.
With the passage of the Veterans Choice Act, new solutions are in place. The Act provides a $10 billion appropriation that allows veterans who were unable to get doctor’s appointments within 30 days to use private sector medical care. In effect, veterans were unable to get appointments because; the VA is short doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals. The $10 billion for private-sector medical care will be available up to three years or when the $10 billion is spent, whichever occurs first. The other $5 billion will be used to supplement the salaries of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals in order to retain their services within the VA system. The $5 billion will also be available to create incentives for new medical care professionals to favorably consider the VA healthcare system as a good place to work. In additions, the VA is undergoing major change throughout the organization. I expect to see many improvements throughout the next few years. Locally what’s happening?
I feel confident that the new VAMC will be completed. UVC/TAL helped influence our Congressional Representatives to determine that the VA National Headquarters had really mishandled construction of the new VA Hospital. The Civilian Board of Contract Appeals’ (CBCA) ruling removed any doubt. As you know, Kiewit Turner (KT) agreed to continue working on the project under a temporary contract with VA that reimburses KT for work performed. The UVC and TAL meet with KT January 14, 2015 for a construction update. We will be looking at the progress and hopefully get some insight into KT’s negotiations with the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE). Hopefully, the final contract to complete the VAMC will occur by March or April 2015.
Within the last month, KT finally received, from VA HQ, a final VAMC design. As we all know, the cost of construction in Denver has risen considerably. My guess, construction will cost about $1.2 billion. Equipping the VAMC will cost about 250 million. Once the new contract between KT and the VA/ACOE is complete, the VA will need to ask Congress for the additional dollars. During the interim period, the VA will keep the construction moving forward through internally generated VA funds. These are amazing times!
I want you to know, the local VA personnel are terrific. They really care, they work hard, and they are doing so in very old hospital. Between Secretaries McDonald and Gibson, I am confident they will have a positive impact on the VA. I predict, two years from now, first quarter 2017, we will all be proud of our new VAMC. Don’t forget our new clinics in Pueblo, Colorado Springs, and Lakewood. In the future, our Vets will receive first class medical care. Will they know the role TAL played?