The Department of Veterans Affairs has failed to determine what healthcare facilities it needs to close, which could lead to billions of dollars wasted to maintain those buildings, the General Accounting Office said.
In testimony last week before the House Veterans Affairs Committee's healthcare subcommittee, GAO official Stephen Backhus said the VA hasn't developed a procedure to identify which facilities are obsolete, underused or inefficient, and to close or curtail services at those facilities.
The VA is looking for more money to treat more veterans.
After a hearing in March 1999, VA officials said they would develop such a procedure. But GAO reported last week the VA has spent "an inordinate amount of time" in setting up the procedures, focusing primarily on how decisions should be made and what officials and outside groups need to be involved.
The GAO report said delaying such decisions could be costing the VA as much as $1 million a day. The VA spends $4 billion a year maintaining 4,700 buildings and 18,000 acres at 181 delivery locations, including 172 medical centers.
Frances Murphy, M.D., VA's deputy undersecretary, defended the VA, saying it has drafted a policy for evaluating facilities. The department is awaiting formal comments from veterans groups and other VA officials.
In the meantime, the VA is moving ahead with projects to integrate care and close underused facilities at seven locations, including integrating healthcare services in Chicago, where numerous VA facilities operate very near one another.
Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), the subcommittee's chairman, criticized the VA for failing to integrate healthcare services in Chicago.
"VA is back to square one after spending $1 million identifying and rejecting options for veterans' care in Chicago," Stearns said. "More money has been set aside to contract for realignment studies in other parts of the country. But not only are those studies on hold, even a promised policy statement to guide the planning process is still incomplete."
Backhus, the GAO's director of veterans and military healthcare issues, also criticized the VA's draft policy for evaluating whether to curtail services or close facilities. He said senior managers at VA headquarters aren't closely involved and that outside parties, such as veterans groups, are given decisionmaking authority instead of advisory roles.