Continuing their push to strengthen veterans' access to health care and benefits in the 118th Congress, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Mark Warner (D-Va.) are reintroducing the Build, Utilize, Invest, Learn, and Deliver (BUILD) for Veterans Act of 2023. This commonsense legislation will modernize and streamline the delivery of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities and other infrastructure projects, bolster its workforce, and save taxpayer dollars by expediting the disposal or repurposing of unused and vacant buildings owned by the Department.
Currently, VA lacks a strategic plan, sufficient infrastructure workforce, and consistent funding to initiate the building or remodeling of facilities identified by the Department. The Senators' BUILD for Veterans Act would strengthen the Department's ability to initiate critical projects to better meet the need of current and future veterans--including women veterans, veterans in need of long-term care services, and veterans with spinal cord injuries and diseases. Among its many provisions, the bill would require VA to implement a more concrete schedule to eliminate or repurpose unused and vacant buildings, develop and execute a plan to hire construction personnel, examine infrastructure budgeting strategies and identify required reforms, and provide annual budget requirements over a 10-year period.
"Delivering veterans their earned health care and benefits starts with ensuring VA's infrastructure works for our rural communities and beyond," said Chairman Tester. "That's why I'm leading the push to modernize and expand VA services for veterans through the BUILD for Veterans Act. This commonsense bill will help ensure we strengthen VA's capacity to deliver veterans state-of-the-art care, while saving taxpayer dollars in the process."
"Veterans and their families deserve more than just a debt of gratitude--they deserve the high-quality care they've earned for their service. That's why it's really important we do all we can to ensure VA facilities are well-equipped to meet the needs of veterans all over the country," Senator Murray. "This legislation takes a big step forward in delivering for our veterans by breaking new ground on VA infrastructure projects and modernizing the facilities we have. There are projects across Washington state that would benefit from this legislation--I'm determined to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this done."
"We know VA needs additional resources to invest in its physical infrastructure, so veterans can receive care at their local VA facilities," said Senator Brown. "The BUILD for Veterans Act will ensure VA's strategic infrastructure plans meet veterans' health care and benefits needs. It's our responsibility to make sure that VA has the authority and resources to complete its mission to support our veterans."
"Cumbersome bureaucratic processes have long stood in the way of critical VA projects such as the opening and remodeling of hospitals, clinics, and benefits offices. As a result, we've seen unnecessary challenges in meeting the needs of veterans seeking care and support through the VA," said Senator Warner. "This legislation builds on recent efforts, and will allow us to better serve veterans and cut down on some of these pointless delays by pushing the VA to more strategically plan and budget for projected demand, and to improve its capacity to manage current and future infrastructure projects."
National veterans advocates threw their support behind the Senators' effort to strengthen and modernize the delivery of VA infrastructure:
"The VFW fully supports the BUILD for Veterans Act which would improve VA's facilities around the country," said Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) National Legislative Director Pat Murray. "VA infrastructure has been underprioritized for far too long and left without a plan for addressing many of the outdated buildings or the backlog of work. The BUILD for Veterans Act will require VA to develop and implement plans, to remedy this problem that has plagued VA for years. We are grateful for Senators Tester, Murray, Brown, and Warner's efforts to deliver infrastructure solutions to VA and for bringing attention to this often-overlooked problem."
"With the growing number of veterans expected to enter the Department of Veterans Affairs' health care system in the coming decades, it has become increasingly imperative that Congress take the lead in strengthening VA's health care infrastructure, and the Senators' BUILD for Veterans Act is a critical first step toward achieving that goal," said Joy Ilem, National Legislative Director of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV). "This legislation would strengthen VA's ability to construct, manage and maintain hospitals, clinics, and other medical facilities across the country. DAV strongly supports the BUILD for Veterans Act and commends Sen. Tester for his continued leadership and commitment to the men and women who served, particularly those injured, made ill or disabled from their service."
"Veterans with catastrophic disabilities depend on VA's specialized health care services to meet their unique health care needs throughout their lives," said Paralyzed Veterans of America Associate Executive Director for Government Relations Heather Ansley. "The BUILD for Veterans Act provides a comprehensive approach to help address problems with VA's internal processes that have hindered its ability to ensure the department's infrastructure is able to meet the ever-growing demand for not only acute health care services but also facility-based long-term care options. We thank Senators Tester, Murray, Brown, and Warner for introducing this important legislation and urge its swift passage."
"A top priority of The American Legion is ensuring VA has state-of-the-art facilities to support veterans medical and mental healthcare needs," said The American Legion National Commander Vincent J. Troiola. "Robustly investing in and revitalizing the aging VA infrastructure is critical to the VA healthcare systems overall success. We must ensure VA is properly resourced and structured to manage the infrastructure of the largest integrated healthcare network in the U.S. By improving VA capital asset programs and increasing congressional oversight, the BUILD Act will assist in establishing a foundation for VA's infrastructure modernization efforts. We greatly appreciate Senator Tester and other Senators' leadership on this issue."
"Veterans expect that the VA will welcome them with facilities that can help deliver the care that they need," said Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Executive Vice President Tom Porter. "The BUILD for Veterans Act provides badly needed reforms to enable the VA to modernize facilities and strengthen oversight and management of the agency's capital asset program and project execution. Senators Tester, Murray, Brown, and Warner should be commended for taking the significant step forward for veterans' health care needs with this important bill."
This legislation is being introduced in addition to the Fiscal Year 2023 Major Medical Facility Authorization Act--a bipartisan bill unveiled this week by Chairman Tester to authorize several VA construction projects this year. These combined efforts build upon historic infrastructure investments in the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act--a law supported by the Senators. The PACT Act invested in VA's infrastructure workforce through new recruitment and retention incentives, providing $5.5 billion in funding for 31 new facilities in 19 states, and delivering additional tools to build clinics more efficiently in the future, including partnerships with the Department of Defense and academic hospitals.