The Dept. of Veterans Affairs is expected to overhaul operations under new legislation aimed to provide billions of dollars to improve the besieged agency's operations. Some of those funds could go for upgrades to VA's extensive network of health-care facilities.
The measure, signed on Aug. 7 by President Obama after congressional approval in late July, also calls for sweeping studies of VA's programs, including its construction program.
The agency has been under fire on Capitol Hill for problems that include veterans enduring long wait times before seeing VA doctors and other medical staff.
Jimmy Christianson, Associated General Contractors of America government affairs director-federal and heavy construction division, says, "This is not going to be, probably, a major source of work for the construction industry as a whole, but it's still a positive development for the nation's veterans."
The measure totals $16.3 billion, including $5 billion to expand the VA's capacity, including hiring more staff. Some of the $5 billion is expected to go for infrastructure improvements, but the bill doesn't specify how much.
Types of improvements that are eligible for the new money include maintenance, repairs, alterations and other VA facilities upgrades; it also includes minor construction projects, which are projects that cost $10 million or less.
"There's going to be a great need over the next five to 10 years for more investment, better investment in facilities," says Andrew Goldberg, American Institute of Architects' managing director for government relations and outreach. Like other federal agencies, VA has "a lot of facilities that are aging, that aren't keeping up with the new technology as well as demand."
The new legislation orders an outside firm study to review VA project delivery. The report is to be finished within 240 days after the consultant is hired.
The legislation also establishes a "Commission on Care," charged with studying how to structure VA's health-care system over the next 20 years. The commission will have 15 members, including at least one who is "familiar with medical facility construction … and [has] experience in the building trades, including construction, engineering and architecture," the measure says.