August 5, 2014

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt. Shaft,
The Congress is currently reviewing remedies to improve VA services to ensure this Nation’s veterans receive the quality of health care they deserve. Part of the solution will likely include the construction or expansion VA facilities, which is expensive.

The VA in years past utilized what was known as Enhanced-Use Authority, to construct facilities without appropriated funds. VA offices in Milwaukee, Atlanta, Chicago and in Columbia, South Carolina were constructed utilizing Enhanced-Use Authority. Basically the way it worked was VA land resources were used to secure private funding.

Enhanced-Use Authority reduced the cost of VA construction, because appropriated funds were not used. Does the VA still use Enhanced-Use Authority? It was a real winner for the VA, for veterans and for taxpayers.

Richard S
Silver Spring, MD

Dear Richard,
Those in the know at VA tell me VA does still have Enhanced-Use Lease (EUL) authority. However, the previous authority expired at the end of 2011 and when it was re-authorized by congress, the authority was limited to Supportive Housing projects only. So under VA’s current EUL authority, VA would not be able to pursue other types of reuse projects, such as the ones that were done for Milwaukee, Chicago, etc.

Shaft Notes
• The Sarge joins the VFW Commander and the Chairmen of the House Veterans Affairs Committee in support of the confirmation of former Proctor & Gamble chief executive Robert McDonald as the new secretary of Veterans Affairs.

John W. Stroud, the national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States congratulated the new secretary on his confirmation, and most especially for wanting to help make a difference in the lives of his fellow veterans during a time of nationwide crisis in care and confidence in his department.

“Secretary McDonald is inheriting a VA in crisis,” said Stroud, an Air Force retiree from Hawthorne, Nev., “but he also inherits a VA that is worth saving, which is why the VFW looks forward to working with him and his team as they fix what’s broken, hold employees appropriately accountable to the maximum extent of the law, and restore the faith of veterans in their VA.”

Chairman Jeff Miller released the following statement regarding the Senate confirmation of Bob McDonald as VA secretary:

“In the wake of the biggest scandal in the history of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Bob McDonald certainly has his work cut out for him. In order to be successful, McDonald will need to take swift and decisive action to discipline employees responsible for mismanagement, negligence and corruption that harms veterans while taking bold steps to replace the department’s culture of complacency with a climate of accountability. I look forward to working with him to achieve these objectives.”

The new Secretary commented that he was grateful to President Obama and to Congress for this opportunity to join the dedicated employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and he said, “I am honored to serve as your Secretary and lead VA. We are immensely fortunate to work in an organization with the noblest and most respected mission in Government—serving this Nation’s Veterans.

“We have strong institutional values—Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence. We will all need to depend on and live by our values as we rise to meet the challenges ahead. Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson—my West Point classmate, a trusted friend, and a great leader—had it right in his recent statement to Congress: ‘We can turn these challenges into the greatest opportunity for improvement in the history of the Department.’

“I recognize that the last few months have been difficult—and the days ahead will not be easy. In fact, many tasks that we must accomplish will be difficult, but I assure you that I will be with you each step of the way. I want to hear your ideas for improving the Department, and I will not tolerate those who stifle initiative, seek to punish people who raise legitimate concerns or report problems, or lack integrity in word or deed. Trust is essential in everything we do.

“I am proud of the work you do and the mission we share, and I am determined to move forward to ensure that VA is the provider of choice for care and benefits for every generation of America’s Veterans.

“I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible in the coming days. God bless you all.”

• After passage of the Conference Report to Accompany H.R. 3230, Chairman Jeff Miller released the following statement:

“The Department of Veterans Affairs is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis caused by corruption, mismanagement and a lack of accountability across the board. VA is in need of reform, and I applaud my colleagues in the House for passing legislation to do just that. The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 do three important things. First, it gets veterans off of waiting lists and helps provide them with the medical care they have earned. Second, it empowers the VA secretary to hold failing executives accountable. Finally, it starts a larger conversation about how we can reform the department so it will better serve veterans for years to come. This is an honest solution to an urgent problem. One that is focused on making government more accountable and providing veterans with real choice in their health care decisions. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to send this bill to the President’s desk in short order so we can start fixing what is now a broken bureaucracy.”

American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger described a $16.3 billion VA health-care reform package, passed 91-3 by the Senate Thursday, as “one step” in a journey just getting under way to repair problems in the Department of Veterans Affairs. The measure, in part, provides funds for VA patients to receive care outside the system, which Dellinger said must be a temporary response until a permanent solution can be reached.

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