Wyden, Merkley VA Construction Bill Moves Forward

Washington, D.C. – Legislation from Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley that would improve the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) ability to serve America’s veterans yesterday took a significant step toward becoming law.

Their bill would streamline the process for routine construction and maintenance at VA facilities, including clinics, by raising the cap on such projects from $10 million to $20 million. Currently, Congress must individually approve VA construction projects that cost more than $10 million, which can result in delays of months or even years. The VA requested the increase as part of its 2018 budget request to allow the department to better serve veterans.

The bill passed the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee as part of a larger package of bipartisan bills, called the Caring for Our Veterans Act of 2017.

“Removing roadblocks to construction projects at the VA is a commonsense move to better ensure our veterans can get the high-quality care they deserve,” Wyden said. “This bill is now one step closer to ensuring our veterans don’t have to wait for Congress to approve routine construction in order to get access to the up-to-date facilities they need.”

“Congressional red tape should never stand in the way of projects that are essential to getting our veterans the care they’ve earned,” Merkley said. “With this action, we’re now one step closer to ensuring Oregon’s veterans will have access to updated, modern VA facilities without those projects being delayed by unnecessary bureaucratic hoops.”

Last year, the Portland VA requested bids to expand its emergency room and received only bids in excess of the $10 million cap. Congress last raised that cap in 2007, but since then, inflation and construction costs have cut into the VA’s ability to undertake routine construction and maintenance without separate congressional authorization. 

The Wyden-Merkley bill would also raise the cap for minor medical facility leases from $1 million to $1.5 million, the amount used by General Services Administration for lease space in other government buildings.

The senators introduced the bill at the beginning of the month. It now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Find bill text here.