Vacant buildings at the VA costing taxpayers millions
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been trying to regain the trust of veterans after scandals involving long wait times and poor hospital conditions. Now a government report reveals another problem: vacant buildings costing millions to maintain. News 4 Trouble Shooter Jaie Avila toured some of them not so far from San Antonio.
In the shadow of the VA medical center in Kerrville sits a cluster of buildings frozen in time. Boarded up and crumbling for decades.
“These buildings were actually built back in the 1920's," says Billy Steele, Engineering Division Manager with the South Texas Veterans Health Care System.
Inside there’s broken glass and holes in the ceiling. Of the eight structures, only one was safe enough for us to enter.
“These buildings are considered uninhabitable and a safety risk," Steele says.
The small homes were built after World War I, when thousands of veterans were treated for tuberculosis.
“This is where the doctors and nurses and the administrative folks would live that would be taking care of the veterans that would actually be in the hospital and the clinics," says Steele.
The Government Accounting Office has identified 1,214 vacant or underutilized VA buildings nationwide that are costing taxpayers millions of dollars to maintain.
The average age of the buildings is 60 years and some date back to the Civil War and even the Revolutionary War.
Critics say the backlog is evidence of systemic neglect and mismanagement.
“Why are we holding on to these type of buildings? Nationwide we are losing a lot of funds, that could be better used for the healthcare of our vets," says Albert Mireles, Public Relations Chairman with the Texas Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Some of the vacant buildings can't be demolished because they've been designated as state historic sites. But the GAO report also blames the planning process used by the VA, which can take up to 23 months to fund a new project.
“Sell them, I don't know, but get out of it. If the VA’s not going to do anything with them, why keep them? Makes no sense," says Mireles.
In response to the report the Secretary of Veterans Affairs says the department will dispose of, or repurpose, 430 vacant buildings in the next 24 months. He claims that will save $15 million a year. But the buildings we toured in Kerrville are not included in that. They'll have to wait for the next round of closures.