By Marsha Sills
November 01, 2012
LAFAYETTE — Plans for a larger veterans clinic for Lafayette and a new clinic for Lake Charles still need congressional approval by the end of the calendar year to prevent more delays for the projects, which already have faced logistical setbacks.
If approved, leases for both projects could be awarded in March with the Lake Charles clinic “substantially complete” by September and the Lafayette clinic “substantially complete” by March 2014, according to information received from the Veterans Affairs Real Property Service office this week.
Technical errors detected in paperwork earlier this year to secure sites for both clinics prompted the selection process to be redone and led to a collective push from Louisiana’s congressional delegation for the VA to expedite its work.
While funding is available for both projects, both clinics require “major lease” authorization from Congress and were pulled from the VA’s 2013 budget authorization request, according to an email from the VA Real Property Service office.
“VA looks forward to working with Congress to undertake separate action to authorize VA’s major leases once the session resumes. Congressional action by the end of the calendar year will allow VA to stay on schedule,” according to the email.
VA officials said funds are available, but “the leases cannot be awarded until they have been authorized by Congress.”
The leases should have been authorized in last year’s authorization bill, which became law on July 26, 2011, wrote U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, in a Sept. 19 letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.
Boustany wrote that the clinics were pulled from this year’s authorization bill so the VA could have more time to devise a new method of calculating cost estimates for major leases with the Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office.
“The bottom line is language authorizing veterans clinics in South Louisiana should already be law but is not because of incompetent bureaucrats within the VA,” Boustany said in a released statement last month.
Last week, Boustany and U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, held a town hall meeting in Lafayette with area veterans to discuss the status of the Lafayette clinic.
Culberson is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
Culberson allayed veterans’ concerns, said Dr. Skip Palmintier, a U.S. Army veteran and co-chairman of the Veterans Action Coalition.
The advocacy group organized two years ago to fight for improved access to health services for veterans in the region.
“We were encouraged because the congressman from Houston listened to our plight,” Palmintier said. “His main pledge was to try to push for the appropriations for the Lake Charles and Lafayette clinics.”
Earlier this year, U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and David Vitter, R-La.; U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia; and Boustany held meetings with top VA officials in an attempt to expedite the process.
In May, the VA began offering some added specialty services at the current veterans community-based outpatient clinic in Lafayette. Other services are provided by physicians in the community on a contract basis.
A mobile clinic has provided health services to Lake Charles area veterans.
The additional speciality services have helped reduce some veterans’ travel to Alexandria, but some veterans are still making the trip and the group is still advocating for more services, such as minor outpatient surgery, Palmintier said.
The group also started recruiting physicians who might be interested in contracting with the VA to provide more health services and has added a health education component to its monthly meetings.
“Every one of our meetings, we have a 45-minute medical lecture,” Palmintier said.
The group will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday at South Regional Library, 6101 Johnston St., and the health topic is on traumatic head injury, he said.