RELATED: Dayton VA to become home to National VA History Center
Two long-shuttered buildings are undergoing renovations in a multi-year remodeling and fund-raising project to become the home of the National VA History Center. Five other homes along “Doctor’s Row” on the campus were targeted for renovation, but that concept was scrapped after a private developer couldn’t secure tax credits for the deal, according to Froats.
Private organizations lease other historic buildings on the sprawling campus, making closure unlikely, according to Froats.
The Dayton VA has “active plans” or is “actively seeking plans for each of these buildings,” Froats said in an email Thursday. Many are protected somewhat from demolition because of their historic designation. The campus, one of the first three forerunners of the VA in the nation, marks its 150th anniversary this year.
VA Secretary David Shulkin testified to the House this week the VA had identified more than 430 vacant buildings and another 735 designated as underused. The VA estimates it could save $25 million a year by eliminating the structures.
The VA would work with Congress to prioritize buildings for closure and might follow a process similar to the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure procedures, commonly called BRAC, he said.
“We want to stop supporting our maintenance of buildings we don’t need, and we want to reinvest that in buildings we know have capital needs,” he told a House appropriations subcommittee.
RELATED: Fisher House planned for Dayton VA
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, indicated he wants to know how the money would be spent before Congress would go along with closures.
“I want to know how the VA will use the money it saves to invest in our veterans and improve the care and services our veterans have earned,” Brown, D-Ohio, said in a statement to this newspaper. “The VA must make its case to Congress, but most importantly to our veterans, before Congress grants the authority to close down any facilities.”
“Taking care of our veterans is one of my highest priorities and I will certainly review any plans regarding Ohio’s VA facilities,” U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a statement Thursday.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
A spokesperson at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the nation’s largest veterans service organization and active in VA-related issues, said it needed to know more about the plan.
“It is no secret that the VA has excess property that should be taken off their books, however, no buildings have been identified,” VFW spokesperson Randi Law said in an email. “We need to see the VA’s plan before commenting further.”
Since 2004, the VA has demolished or reused more than 1,000 structures, the agency said.
RELATED: VA Choice program extended, allows veterans more care options
In Ohio, the VA has medical centers in Dayton, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland and Chillicothe and outpatient clinics in more than 30 cities. In fiscal year 2015, the VA handled more than 26,600 in-patient admissions and more than 3.4 million outpatient visits statewide.
The Dayton VA has reported a yearly rise in both the number of veterans seeking care and outpatient visits.
The number of patients rose to 39,723 last fiscal year compared to 37,520 in FY 2012. Outpatient visits jumped sharply to 509,403 in fiscal year 2016 versus 443,376 in FY 2012, figures show.
More veterans were using VA Choice, which lets veterans receive care at a private health care provider under certain conditions. The Dayton VA recorded 702 appointments in 2014, which jumped sharply to more than 13,000 last year, figures show.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
DAYTON VA PATIENTS RISING
The Dayton VA has had a significant hike in the number of veterans seeking health care at its facilities. Here’s a look at the numbers for the prior five fiscal years.
Number of individual patients
SOURCE: Dayton VA Medical Center