Ripon Advance: Daines bill would build new veterans care facilities

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) on Friday introduced the Veteran State Home Grant Backlog Reduction Act of 2017 to ensure that veterans have the care facilities they need.

“Montana is home to one of the highest populations of veterans per capita, and our state is in dire need of the proper facilities to provide veterans quality healthcare,” Daines said in introducing the bill the day before Veterans Day. 

The bill would ensure that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) separately prioritizes grants for new state veterans’ home construction from grants for renovating and updating existing homes. The measure also would require that within six months of enactment the Secretary of Veterans Affairs submit a plan to Congress detailing its strategy for clearing the backlog of new state-home construction by the end of FY 2023.

“Constructing new homes must be an urgent priority,” Daines said.

According to the bill, chronic funding shortfalls have caused a backlog of outstanding state-home projects, with an average of six years from when state matching funds are made available to when federal funds are finally obligated for the new construction. 

The legislation would require that, beginning in fiscal year 2019, the president’s budget submission to Congress would include separate requests for renovation, safety updates, and bed replacement and for new construction. 

State veterans homes are owned, operated, and managed by state governments, according to the VA, which formally recognizes and certifies facilities as state homes. The agency annually surveys state homes to ensure they meet VA standards.

Although the state of Montana in 2011 provided its $5 million share for construction of a new state veterans home in Butte, the project has languished for more than five years, according to Daines’s office. In July, Daines secured increased funding for the Butte home and other state extended-care facilities through the FY 2018 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.