A picture of Senator Mary L. Landrieu
Mary L.
Former Democrat LA
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    Veterans Affairs Major Medical Facility Lease Authorization Act of 2013

    by Former Senator Mary L. Landrieu

    Posted on 2013-12-10

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    LANDRIEU. Mr. President, I want to actually talk a few minutes this evening about a very important bill the House just passed by an extraordinary vote of 346 to 1. My colleague, Congressman Boustany in the House, was the lead sponsor, and I want to really congratulate him for his extraordinary work on this particular bill. It is something he and I have worked together on across party lines. He is a Republican and I am a Democrat, but we worked very closely together to get this entire bill passed not only for the benefit of Louisiana--which is shaded here on this chart as one of the States that would benefit--but we can see here how many other States between 2013 and 2017 will be affected positively by the passage of this bill.

    The bill is the Veterans Affairs Major Medical Facility Lease Authorization Act. That is a mouthful, but it takes important action. It basically uses the guidance of the Office of Management and Budget-- we received a letter from them at my request--and formulates a piece of legislation that will allow the Veterans Administration to build clinics the way they have been building clinics for our veterans--who really need the highest and best quality care--using a lease arrangement.

    The reason we had to pass this bill--and I will be working with Senator Vitter and many others to ask unanimous consent at the proper time for this bill to pass through the Senate--is because about 6 years ago there was an administrative ruling that basically stopped the ability of the Veterans Affairs Department to be able to build these very needed veterans clinics by using a lease.

    Internally, the administration just decided to score it differently. That threw lots of sand into the gears, and those gears have been stuck for 6 years. In our State, veterans in Lafayette and in Lake Charles have been waiting and waiting and waiting. We had some added complications, which the Veterans Administration has taken the blame for, in that the bid process that was used initially for one of our clinics was defective and they had to throw it out.

    But the end of this sad story is that a great bill passed the House of Representatives, literally just a few hours ago, and I wanted to come to the floor to say how proud I am of Congressman Boustany and his dogged pursuit of justice. The district of Congressman Boustany is in the part of the State where these two clinics will be built, in Lafayette and Lake Charles, so I worked closely with him, as has Senator Vitter, to make sure we brought some clarity and focus to this issue in order to move forward. As the bill moved through to help us with our problem, it turns out it is also going to help many other States that are scheduled for veterans clinics.

    I also want to thank Congressman Miller of Florida, who is the chair of the VA committee. He worked very closely with Congressman Boustany. Also I want to thank Bernie Sanders, our Senator from Vermont who chairs our committee here. Senator Sanders--whose desk is right here, next to mine--has been very supportive of this effort. While I am not going to ask unanimous consent at this moment, he and I have had a discussion earlier today about how strongly he supports this effort and how much he wants to help us get this done.

    There are 27 clinics in 22 States. This process--or nightmare, I should say--began in Louisiana about 6 years ago. Four years ago the ruling was made, but our legislation that was passed in the House will override that and basically set us on a course that is both fiscally responsible and so important to our veterans. We must honor the promises we made to them that we would provide clinics close enough so they could access them and so they are not driving hundreds of miles for regular care. We can be very smart in the way we design these leases so it will be a benefit to the taxpayer, a benefit to the veterans and it will really meet our obligation to them.

    So again, the bill just passed the House, and tomorrow I will be asking unanimous consent, along with Senator Vitter, to move this bill, to get it to the President's desk and get it signed so that veterans who have been waiting--particularly in our State--for so long will have something extra special to celebrate this Christmas holiday.

    I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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