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Washington—The Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved an amendment introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to advance critical seismic safety-related construction projects at facilities in San Francisco, Long Beach, and Los Angeles, as well as additional construction projects in Alameda Point, Fremont and French Camp.

The amendment is identical to legislation passed by the Senate unanimously in January and was offered to the Military Construction-VA appropriations bill as an alternative path to passage. The amendment is also included in a larger legislative package approved by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee earlier this month and is awaiting passage by the full Senate.

“The next big California earthquake is a question of when, not if. The seismic safety improvements planned at our largest VA facilities are essential to ensure the safety of veterans and their families, health care providers and staff,” said Senator Feinstein. “These projects are also critical to meeting health care and housing needs for veterans throughout California. I’m pleased the Senate has again approved these projects moving forward.”

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that California suffers a magnitude 6.7 or greater earthquake 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 San Andreas fault is statistically overdue for a major earthquake. The southernmost section has not experienced a major rupture, which occur on average every 150 years, for more than 300 years. The northern section of the San Andreas fault and the Hayward fault are also overdue for major earthquakes, having last experienced a large rupture in 1906 and 1868, respectively. Ruptures of these faults are expected, on average, every 100 to 150 years based on historic records.

A 6.6 earthquake struck near San Fernando in 1971, destroying the VA’s San Fernando hospital. According to the VA, 30 veterans and 10 employees were killed, accounting for the majority of fatalities that occurred in the disaster.

The final spending bill that passed in December 2015 included $563 million for California projects: $161 million for Long Beach, $158 million for Fort Miley, $70 million for Alameda Point, $139 million for Fremont and French Camp and $35 million for West Los Angeles. The bill also included $75 million for Louisville, Ky., $11 million for American Lake, Wash. and $83.7 million for Perry Point, Md.

However, VA is not able to spend the money already appropriated by Congress due to a technical requirement that the projects also be approved by the Veterans’ Affairs Committees. Congress has not yet passed legislation to authorize VA’s requested construction projects from last year. Feinstein’s amendment provides the required authorization.

The House is expected to take up its version of the Military Construction-VA appropriations bill later this week.