THE ISSUE: Infrastructure bill axes VA modernization.

OUR OPINION: Congress gives veterans short shrift.

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The celebration of Veterans Day each year is a reminder to all that the men and women who put on the uniform of the United States armed forces sign a blank check payable to the United States of America for an amount up to and including their very lives.

That reminder, however, was conveniently cast aside by the Congress less than a week before this year’s Veterans Day. On the Friday before Veterans Day, the Congress, unbeknown to most veterans and the general public, saw fit to give short shrift to the more than 9 million veterans enrolled in the VA health care system. 

Unlike the blank check that these veterans had given to the United States, the Congress indifferently used them as budget pawns by opting to give them a check stamped “NSF” for insufficient funds, when it axed $18 billion desperately needed for the modernization of the VA’s health care infrastructure from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.

The axing of this miniscule amount compared to the $1.2 trillion bill that’s laden with funding for a myriad of infrastructure and non-infrastructure items was a kick in the teeth for veterans because of its direct impact on the quality and availability of VA health care.

With an estimated three quarters of the VA’s 1,700 heath care facilities more than 50 years old and a median age of 58 years, the VA’s aging and obsolescent infrastructure is inadequate for delivering modern 21st Century health care. 

As a result of the VA’s obsolescent infrastructure, many of its hospitals cannot optimally accommodate treatment modalities and technologies developed since they were built decades ago. This adversely impacts the quality of veterans’ care, discourages eligible veterans from seeking care, and negatively affects the morale and effectiveness of VA health care providers.

The VA’s obsolescent infrastructure is also mismatched with the changing geographical distribution and demographics of the current veterans’ population. As such, the closing of chronically underused facilities, the building of new facilities in geographical areas that are underserved, and the redesigning of “male-oriented” facilities to make them more accommodating to the growing number of women veterans are needed to optimize the availability of care.

Given the increasing age and obsolescence of the VA’s heath care infrastructure, the axing of the $18 billion for its modernization was not only shortsighted, but also flat wrong because it devalued the selfless service and willing sacrifices of our nation’s veterans.

Our nation’s veterans, who were willing to give all, certainly deserved better than being treated as budget pawns by the Congress.