Covering Louisiana

Feb 18, 2014 5:33 PM by Dave Fields

VA Hospitals: La. Congressional delegation requests meeting with secretary

WASHINGTON -- According to releases from Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., the entire Louisiana Congressional delegation sent a letter Tuesday to the Secretary of Veterans Administration (VA), Eric Shinseki, requesting a meeting to push for pending legislation that would immediately authorize the Lake Charles and Lafayette outpatient clinics.

In December 2013, Sen. Landrieu and Congressman Boustany introduced legislation together in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives to green light construction of the new clinic in Lake Charles, while ensuring that the Lafayette clinic would remain open. The bipartisan bill, the Keep Our Commitment to Veterans Act, passed the House with a near unanimous vote of 346-1, with the entire delegation supporting it.

"We are contacting your office to ask again for your focused engagement on the completion of the veterans' clinics in Lake Charles, LA, Lafayette, LA and in 18 other states and territories across the country," the delegation wrote in the letter. "For nearly four years, the entire delegation has been unified in our efforts to complete these projects. Absent these clinics, more than 3,000 South Louisiana veterans must travel in excess of three hours to receive medical care. According to news accounts, some Louisiana veterans go without needed care due to financial hardships and long travel times. The veterans of Louisiana have waited long enough to have access to the quality care we have promised them, and our delegation is ready to take any action necessary to end these needless delays."

"Veterans across the country have been put on hold waiting for these twenty-seven veterans' clinics nationwide - including two in Louisiana, which should have been built already," Vitter said. "I've introduced legislation in the Senate to fix this, and the House introduced legislation to fix this - but it hasn't been enough. The VA needs to take long overdue action."

Landrieu's office said that the purpose of the letter is to "request an in-person meeting to discuss solutions and a path forward toward construction."

The letter makes an appeal to the VA secretary to "maintain his commitment" to veterans. The letter continues:

"As you are aware, due to an unexpected change by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in how it estimates the cost of VA clinics around the country, the clinics that were ready to be built were not authorized. We have received commitments that the Veterans Administration will find a solution that allows our veterans to receive the health care they earned. In fact, you have promised several members of our delegation that you were personally committed to expediting the process of building these clinics. In May 2012, you wrote: 'I am committed to opening new clinics in both Lake Charles and Lafayette to provide needed services to Louisiana Veterans within the next 2 to 2.5 years.'"

The letter concludes with an apparent expression by the state's delegation of frustration and impatience with the Veterans Administration, citing inaction on part of the agency.

"Our entire delegation would like to request a meeting with you and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to discuss the pending House and Senate legislation. The veterans of Louisiana have waited long enough to have access to the quality care we have promised them, and our delegation is ready to take any action necessary to end these needless delays. Thank you in advance for your quick response, and we look forward to continuing to work with you on behalf of Louisiana's over 300,000 veterans."



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