WASHINGTON — A proposal to build new veterans health facilities through public-private partnerships received a warm reception Wednesday at a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.
Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., presented legislation to allow those partnerships, saying Americans’ confidence in the care provided to veterans has been shaken.
She referenced troubled projects such as a Denver facility that has blown through schedules and budgets in spectacular fashion.
Against that backdrop, Fischer said, local private-sector players across the country are eager to step in and help.
“These communities do not want to wait for Washington,” Fischer told the committee. “They are ready to restore the veterans health care system and they want to take an active role in restoring our national confidence in that system.”
It’s a key issue for the Omaha area, which has seen a $560 million replacement for its aging VA hospital stalled by cost overruns and delays on other VA projects.
Local donors have rallied to the idea of a public-private partnership that would instead construct a $136 million ambulatory care facility — a scaled-down but presumably much more achievable approach.
Involving the private sector in VA construction projects can help them progress more smoothly, Fischer said.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the committee, thanked Fischer for bringing the proposal to the committee.
“Having dealt with the Denver hospital debacle and gone through that, I’m glad that there are thoughtful members of the Senate looking at solutions to our future problems so we don’t ever have to replicate those again,” he said.
Fischer’s bill is similar to House legislation by Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb., which also has the support of his Nebraska colleagues, Reps. Jeff Fortenberry and Adrian Smith, both Republicans.
It’s unclear exactly when the bills will come up for votes, but Ashford and Fischer talked about seeking congressional action by September and certainly before the end of the year.
Several veterans organizations on Wednesday offered testimony supporting the legislation. The VA also offered its strong support for the bill while raising a technical issue on some of the language.
Fischer spokesman Tom Doheny said aides are working on that technical issue and expect it to be resolved quickly.