Proposed Oklahoma VA projects are (mostly) good news
President Trump’s new budget includes funding to help build a Veterans Administration hospital in Tulsa and to upgrade the VA hospital in Muskogee, to the delight of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said the plan “cements eastern Oklahoma’s importance to providing high-quality care for our veterans and addressing specialized care needs.”
Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said, “It is right for us to continue to invest, through appropriations and public-private partnerships, in the individuals who have invested so much in our nation.”
Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville: “Today is a step in the right direction to ensure our veterans get the quality, accessible health care they need.”
It’s exciting news, to be sure. However, it should be tempered, at least somewhat, by the fact the spending proposals are just that — proposals. They will need to survive the process of getting through Congress, although Inhofe’s role as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee should help in that regard.
Another concern is the VA’s shaky record as it pertains to infrastructure.
In 2018, a report by the VA inspector general said two projects at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center were $10.8 million over budget and several years behind schedule. In that case, a new surgical intensive care unit and expanded operating room were still incomplete 12 years after plans were unveiled.
In the same report, the IG said poor planning of the construction of a generator system at the VA hospital in Muskogee led to the collapse of a hillside and parking lot and would require several million dollars to fix.
The worst case of VA mismanagement occurred with its hospital in Aurora, Colorado, outside Denver. Announcement of its planned construction came in 2004 at an estimated cost of $328 million. Fourteen years later, following myriad delays and cost overruns, the hospital finally opened. Cost: a cool $1.7 billion.
The Trump budget includes $120 million for a Tulsa VA hospital, whose total cost is $173 million. The difference is to be covered by state and local funding and private donations. The hospital would be housed in an existing building that will be overhauled, with the property becoming part of the OSU Medical Center complex.
The medical center in Muskogee would get $28 million and transition to a behaviorial health facility.
Officials say they hope that placing a VA hospital in Tulsa and tying it to the medical school will help attract and keep specialty doctors, something that's been a challenge for the Muskogee facility.
Inhofe noted a 2015 story in USA Today that was highly critical of Oklahoma’s care for veterans. Many gains have been made since then, he said, and Trump’s budget proposal “is a true milestone for veterans’ care in Oklahoma — not just for today’s veterans, but for future generations.”
He’s right, although it will bear watching to see just how long it takes to complete the projects, and what they’ll ultimately cost taxpayers.