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Bob Elliott: Federal action needed for French Camp veterans center

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Posted: Monday, June 2, 2014 11:49 pm

As a veteran who served in the U.S. Army for more than 30 years, I know firsthand the importance of supporting those serving in our military. America is free today because of the sacrifices made by those who have served in our armed forces.

Our servicemen and women are expected to place their lives on the line each and every day to protect our country, our freedom and our way of life. The least we can do to repay them for the great sacrifices they make is to provide them with readily accessible, state-of-the-art services and health care.

For the past decade, San Joaquin County has been advocating for a VA clinic that would provide conveniently located, comprehensive services to our veterans. After years of collaborative efforts by the county, veterans and veterans organizations, our federal delegation and city leaders, French Camp was ultimately chosen as the site of a new Central Valley Community Based Outpatient Clinic and Community Living Center.

Planning for the French Camp project — an approximately $300 million venture — is already well underway. The schematic design has been completed by an architect, and the Design Development and Construction documents are scheduled to be completed by the end of the 2015 fiscal year. A location has been selected adjacent to San Joaquin General Hospital, and 52 acres have been purchased.

The project consists of a 150,000-square-foot Community Based Outpatient Clinic and a 120-bed, 150,000-square-foot Community Living Center, as well as other infrastructure. Building this facility in French Camp will dramatically improve the standard of care for veterans across the Central Valley.

In addition to serving the estimated 87,000 veterans who call San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Calaveras and Tuolumne counties home, the clinic will employ up to 400 people when fully operational and will provide several hundred additional jobs during construction. This project is a huge success for our veterans and for our community.

All that is needed to get started is federal funding authorization. Approved as part of the VA’s own CARES initiative in 2004, the project has since floundered despite demonstrated need and strong, bipartisan congressional support.

Due to a recent downgrade by the VA, the project fell significantly on the nationwide priority list for VA construction projects. The VA claims that the need for costly safety and seismic improvements to many facilities around the nation has pushed the French Camp project from No. 10 on the major priority list to No. 19.

This response is unacceptable and troubling. The French Camp project has stalled as a direct result of the VA’s own, acknowledged misunderstandings. Their assumptions of our progress are erroneous and fail to acknowledge many key factors, including the fact that the project will be “shovel ready” in 2015, as opposed to some higher ranked projects that are years away from being ready.

Additionally, our project apparently has not been given appropriate credit as either a “replacement” project, or as a project that provides “increasing access” to care. All these factors should be given appropriate consideration in the VA ranking process.

The VA’s questionable ranking system currently stands in the way of progress and access to needed care for our Valley veterans. Left unchanged, this ranking could delay construction of the French Camp project for years — an appalling prospect.

The county strongly requests that the VA reevaluate the French Camp project and give it proper credit to ensure it can be included in the president’s fiscal year 2016 budget proposal. Our Congressional members have also made this request in a joint letter to the VA.

We remain steadfast in our advocacy to get this facility funded and built, and we challenge our federal government to show the same urgency and commitment to serving our veterans as was shown when the State of California was forced to ensure construction of a brand-new, $900 million health care facility for prisoners in only two years’ time. Surely our veterans deserve at least as much priority as our prisoners!

Central Valley veterans have been waiting far too long for access to the needed health care that the new French Camp facilities would provide. The VA needs to fund our French Camp facilities now, and provide the care and attention our veterans need. They deserve nothing less.

To voice your opinion about the VA Central Valley Facility, please call 800-827-1000 (TTY: 800-829-4833) or write to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, ATTN: Acting Secretary Sloan D. Gibson, 810 Vermont Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20420.

Supervisor Bob Elliott is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He served his country for 30 years in the U.S. Army, and retired as a colonel, U.S. Army Special Forces (the Green Berets.) Elliott was elected to the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors in 2012 and represents the 5th District, which covers portions of south San Joaquin County, including Tracy, Mountain House and half of Manteca. He currently serves as chairman of the board.

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Welcome to the discussion.

3 comments:

  • Christina Welch posted at 11:31 pm on Wed, Jun 4, 2014.

    Christina Welch Posts: 349

    For those interested in this Military Times article (from February, not April), here is the link:

    http://www.militarytimes.com/article/20140227/NEWS05/302270033/Senate-blocks-huge-vets-benefits-bill

    To go along with the first two paragraphs, here are some of my own cherry-picked parts of the article:

    “Sanders’ comprehensive legislative package was introduced in January as a vehicle to repeal unpopular trims in military retirement pay. But Congress overturned those cuts earlier in February in a separate vote, sapping much of the political urgency out of the omnibus bill.”

    “It contained a host of benefits and program changes advocated by veterans groups, including improved services for military sexual assault victims, new fertility treatment options for wounded veterans and an extension of health care coverage for recently returned veterans.”

    “But the bill also had a hefty price tag. The Congressional Budget Office originally estimated its cost at $21 billion over 10 years, but the removal of the retirement issue would drop the total to about $15 billion over the next decade.”

    I wish I could include the whole article, but it in no way supports the contention that Republicans are to blame for the current VA scandal/problem. Nor does the bill in question have anything to do with the funding of the VA facility in French Camp. This bill spent way too much money in a stupid way and it would have done nothing to “bring down backlogs and funding shortages.” It was funding for other purposes. Actually, subsequent bills have been passed to provide veterans with some of the additional benefits proposed in the bill.

    The problems at the VA are not political, they’re bureaucratic and systemic. It is disingenuous to place blame on either party for this horrible treatment of our veterans. And both parties need to work together to investigate and make darn sure something like this never happens again.

    As for Colonel Elliott's original letter, I most certainly agree and I'm sure Congressman McNerney is probably working on getting our priority improved. And I'm glad to see our Board of Supervisors is fighting for this cause. I will also do my part, as suggested.

     
  • Ed Walters posted at 12:51 pm on Wed, Jun 4, 2014.

    the old dog Posts: 507

    A suggestion I posted months ago and was reviewed by Michael Fitzgerald and Mike Clock agreed with me, along with many others that personally have told me that my idea would work. Now it seems that many others in high places, Sen. John McCain spoke on this subject on "Meet the Press", though the words have been rearranged he also agree. No need to spend many millions of dollars when a card will admit a vet to a hospital of choice and closest to his residence, along with a VA center in DC to do nothing but process the debt of the vet. Would it work, of course it would, Congressman Jerry McNerney agreed it would when I spoke to him on this subject. And quite frankly, politics could be left at the door, since the health of the veterans is the main concern.

     
  • Joanne Bobin posted at 10:35 am on Tue, Jun 3, 2014.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4488

    Thank you, Colonel Elliott, for addressing this important issue.

    Maybe this has a lot to do with the problem:

    April 2014, The Military Times:

    "Senate blocks huge vets benefits bill

    A massive veterans legislative package that would have expanded a host of post-military benefits was sidelined Thursday after Senate Democratic backers failed to find enough support among their Republican colleagues.

    A procedural motion to cut off debate and allow the bill to move to a floor vote fell short by four votes, with all but two Republicans voting along party lines. Bill sponsor Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, called the defeat a frustrating disappointment and vowed to find a way to guide the measure through Congress this year. "

    Republicans are all set to have another Congressional Committee to investigate the problems with the VA. Perhaps they should look in the mirror and ask themselves what THEY could have done to bring down backlogs and funding shortages.

     

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