A bill seen as essential to reviving the stalled plans to replace the aging Veterans Administration hospital in Omaha survived a last-minute political clash to clear the Senate and move to the president’s desk.
The bill authorizes public-private partnerships to finance VA projects.
It will apply to any VA hospital, but was pushed by the Nebraska Congressional delegation, especially U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer and Congressman Brad Ashford, with the Omaha project specifically in mind.
The bill, known as the CHIP IN for Vets Act, would engage local communities in the planning and financing of VA health care facilities. Veterans Administration Sec. Bob McDonald supported the bill. President Barack Obama is expected to sign it into law. Work on the Omaha project could begin shortly after the president’s signs the bill.
Five initial projects have been proposed as pilots, including the Omaha VA facility.
Sen. Fischer released the following statement after the bill passed the Senate:
“CHIP IN for Vets will help ensure our veterans can access the quality health care they deserve. I collaborated with the Omaha VA, members of the Omaha community, and my House colleague, Brad Ashford, on this important bill. For months, I worked in Washington with VA Secretary Bob McDonald, the committee chairmen, Congressional leadership, and their dedicated staff to advance it. This bill is needed. With it, our nation can better deliver on its promises to our veterans.”
Congressman Ashford released the following statement:
“I want to particularly thank my colleagues Representatives Jeff Fortenberry and David Young for their unrelenting support. I also want to thank Sen. Deb Fischer for her leadership as well as the invaluable guidance of both the House and Senate veterans committees. By working in a bipartisan fashion we have negotiated a deal the Nebraska Way increasing medical care for nearly 175,000 veterans in Nebraska and Western Iowa.”
Under the bill, the VA would be allowed to accept private donations of money, facilities and real property while entering into an agreement with private partners to plan, design and construct new facilities for use by the VA, according to Congressman Ashford’s office.
“By partnering with private donors and local communities, veterans will receive the health care services they deserve, including primary health care, mental health care and out-patient surgery,” Ashford said in a written statement released by his office. “Essential roles were played by Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs (HVAC), its Ranking Member Mark Takano, the entire Nebraska delegation, Congressman Tim Walz, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Secretary Bob McDonald, his staff and Matt Collier of MyVA Strategic Partnerships. I can’t thank them enough for their unwavering support for this legislation.”
A public-private partnership would pay for a $136 million ambulatory care facility to replace the VA hospital in Omaha. A dispute over efforts to extend medical and pension benefits for retired coal miners blocked passage of a number of bills, including the Omaha VA bill, even though they generated no opposition in Congress.
“It’s very frustrating with the Omaha VA bill. This is obviously a priority that we’ve been trying to get done,” U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer told Nebraska reporters during a conference call late last week.
An effort to secure federal funding for a $560 million replacement of the VA hospital in Omaha has been placed on hold for years as the VA struggles with cost overruns elsewhere. The scaled-back ambulatory care facility has been touted as a reasonable replacement for a project that simply has never gotten off the ground.