With Veterans Day approaching, we turn our spotlight on the federal government’s second-largest department. With more than 10,000 employees and more than 150 hospitals, 300 vet centers and 800 community-based outpatient clinics—as well as hundreds of other facilities nationwide—the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is second in size only to the Department of Defense. The VA’s mission is to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise “to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and for his orphan.” The department is made up of three organizational elements: the Veterans Benefits Administration, the Veterans Health Administration (which operates the nation’s largest integrated health care system) and the National Cemetery Administration (which maintains more than 2.9 million gravesites at 131 national cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico, as well as 33 soldier’s lots and monument sites).
While the VA’s comprehensive benefits system traces its roots back to 1636—when the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony passed a law requiring the colony to support disabled soldiers—its precursor agency, the Veterans Administration, was not established until 1930, when Congress authorized the president to “consolidate and coordinate Government activities affecting war veterans,” by combining the Veterans Bureau, the Bureau of Pensions of the Interior Department and the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers into a single agency. On March 15, 1989, the Department of Veterans Affairs was established as a Cabinet-level agency.
In 2009, President Obama appointed Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to lead a massive transformation of the department into a high-performing, 21st-century organization to better serve veterans and their families. The resulting Strategic Plan Refresh: FY 2011-2015 provides a listing of the 16 major initiatives, many of them relating to improving health care for veterans and this, in turn, explains the numerous VA lease-construct (i.e. build-to-suit) projects all across the United States. With GSA construction on the wane, developers are increasingly setting their sites on VA facilities.
The VA headquarters building is located at 810 Vermont Ave. N.W., in Washington, D.C. The department owns and leases many hundreds facilities that serve veterans throughout the nation. Its Office of Construction & Facilities Management (CFM)—based at 425 I Street, N.W., with regional offices in Chicago, Mare Island, Calif., and Silver Spring, Md.—plans, designs, constructs and leases facilities for all elements of the VA. CFM also manages seismic corrections, physical security, sustainability and historic preservation of the VA’s facilities. The replacement value of these facilities is more than $56 billion, while the cost of new construction and renovation projects alone is nearly $1 billion per year.
The VA’s FY2013 spending is projected to be approximately $140.3 billion, including almost $64 billion in discretionary resources and nearly $76.4 billion in mandatory funding. The discretionary budget request represents an increase of $2.7 billion (nearly 4.5%) over the FY2012 enacted level. While the vast majority of this budget request supports mandatory benefits programs (54.4%) and medical programs (40.1%), a small portion of it (0.9%) supports construction of a number of medical facility projects already underway. We’ll tell you a bit more about some of these projects in a future post.