Veterans Affairs Department Scheduling Woes Extend from Care to Leases
Posted at 5 p.m. on June 3, 2014
Former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki takes his seat to testify for the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on “The State of VA Health Care” on Thursday, May 15, 2014. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
The Department of Veterans Affairs is already in plenty of hot water over its patient backlog, and a Government Accountability Office report released this week on a similar brand of mismanagement elsewhere in the department isn’t going to help turn down the temperature.
The GAO report on department management of leasing for outpatient clinics was overshadowed by the department’s other woes, but found some significant problems. Of the 41 projects the GAO examined, 39 were behind schedule — one of them by more than 13 years.
Because construction of VA-owned properties is expensive, the department has increasingly leased out medical facilities to provide treatment, to the tune of $5.5 billion as of the fall of 2013.
Most of the scheduling delays came at the front end, before the department ever entered into a lease agreement, and on average the delays are 3.3 years. The problems included late or changing requirements, trouble finding suitable facilities and ever-changing internal procedures.
And the GAO found cost overruns, too, which stemmed from the delays.
In response to the report, department chief of staff Jose Riojas embraced the GAO recommendations. But he noted that many of the delays were out of the VA’s control, attributing them to such factors as environmental law compliance or protests of awarded contracts.
Under a compromise Senate bill offered in response to the VA patient backlog scandal, the department would be authorized to lease 26 new facilities in 18 different states.