Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (both D-Calif.) and Congressman Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) today introduced the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Facility Earthquake Protection and Improvement Act to allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to advance critical, time-sensitive seismic safety projects at VA facilities in California and facility upgrades in New York.
The federal spending bill signed into law in December included funds for three seismic safety projects in California ($187.5 million for San Diego, $101.9 million for Long Beach and $35 million for Los Angeles), as well as $122.4 million for upgrades at the VA facility in Canandaigua, N.Y.
However, VA can’t spend the money approved by Congress and the president for those projects because there is a legal requirement that projects also be approved by the Veterans’ Affairs Committees. Congress did not pass legislation last year to authorize any of the VA’s requested construction projects, so those funds can’t be used.
These funds are especially important for California, where the U.S. Geological Survey estimates a magnitude 6.7 or greater earthquake strikes every 6.3 years, on average. It also reports that California’s risk of being struck by a magnitude 8.0 or greater earthquake has increased by nearly 50 percent since the agency completed its last estimate in 2008.
“The next California earthquake is a question of when, not if, and the seismic safety upgrades planned for the three California VA facilities are critical to ensure the safety of veterans, health care providers and staff,” said Senator Feinstein. “Given that Congress has already approved funds for these projects, I am hopeful that my colleagues will allow for this simple technical fix to advance quickly.”
“I am proud to join with Senator Feinstein to introduce this important legislation, which will protect the safety of our veterans and the medical staff who care for them by ensuring that VA facilities in California receive critical seismic upgrades,” said Senator Boxer.
“One of our greatest responsibilities in Congress is to provide for those who have served our country,” said Congressman Lieu. “Placing our veterans and their health care providers in buildings not fit to withstand an earthquake does not meet the American standard. This bill will authorize funds that Congress itself already appropriated; it is a legislative no-brainer. Thank you to Senators Feinstein and Boxer for their leadership on this issue. I look forward to working with all my colleagues in the House and Senate to quickly pass this bill to bolster the safety of our veterans and VA staff.”
Feinstein, Boxer and Lieu have also written to the chair and ranking member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committees in the House and Senate to urge swift consideration of the bill.