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The VA plans to get rid of 430 buildings in the next two years

STARS AND STRIPES

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 20, 2017

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs has started the process of disposing of or reusing 71 buildings nationwide, and the department plans to cut another 359 from its inventory in the next two years, the VA announced Tuesday.

The facilities are either vacant or mostly vacant, according to a VA news release. Some of the buildings will be demolished, while others will be prepared for a different use. VA Secretary David Shulkin said the closures would come “as swiftly as possible.”

Shulkin first made known in early May that he was considering closing 1,100 vacant or underused buildings as part of a larger effort to run the VA more efficiently. At a “State of the VA” briefing May 31, he outlined problems with the VA’s capitol assets. VA buildings are 60 years old on average, and the VA spends $25 million each year to maintain vacant or underutilized buildings, he said at the time.

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The VA also announced Tuesday that the Veterans Benefits Administration was “freezing its footprint.” It will eliminate office space nationwide and lease space where it’s needed, the release states.

“Our buildings and our facilities are increasingly falling into disrepair,” Shulkin said at the May 31 briefing. “We’re going to work with Congress to develop a modernization plan for our capital infrastructure through what we call a National Realignment Strategy that’s going to allow us to use our buildings in a better way, stop supporting vacant buildings and underutilized buildings, all to be a better steward of taxpayer dollars.”

The oldest building to be cleared from the VA’s inventory is 148 years old, according to VA documents. It’s a vacant housing facility in Milwaukee, Wisc., built in 1869. Many of the structures on the list of vacant buildings have historic status, and about 70 were built in the 1800s.

The newest building to be disposed of is a vacant service building in Temple, Texas, built in 2004.

It was not clear Tuesday which buildings would be demolished and which ones would serve another purpose.

The vacant or near-vacant buildings are located across the country, but some VA systems have more than others. The Knoxville, Tenn., VA health care system has 34 buildings on the list, and 39 are part of the Northern Indiana Health Care System in Marion, Ind. At the Perry Point, Md., campus, 59 buildings are set to be disposed of, most of which are housing facilities built in 1918.

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Clearing the 430 vacant or nearly vacant buildings from its inventory will save the VA an estimated $7 million each year in maintenance costs, the VA said. Closing some Veterans Benefits Administration offices will save an estimated $15.7 million annually.

In addition to the 430 buildings, the VA also plans to consider another 784 buildings that are still in use “to determine if additional efficiencies can be identified to be reinvested in veterans’ services,” the release states. President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposes giving the VA more authority to lease out its vacant or underutilized buildings and speed up the process of renovating its buildings.

wentling.nikki@stripes.com
Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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