Lankford, Inhofe, Mullin, Hern, Stitt React to President Trump’s Proposal to Build VA Hospital in Tulsa
WASHINGTON, DC – This afternoon, President Trump released his 2021 Presidential Budget Request, which identifies his goals and funding priorities for next year. The request includes funding to build a new hospital in Tulsa and is complemented with plans for a major investment in the Muskogee health facility to support a transformative specialty care facility. These new investments—along with ongoing commitment to the VA Call Center and Regional Benefits Administration in Muskogee—will improve care for our veterans while cementing Muskogee’s future as a VA hub. Over the past two years, Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Representatives Markwayne Mullin (OK-02) and Kevin Hern (OK-01) have worked with Governor Kevin Stitt (R-OK), OSU Medical, the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation, the City of Tulsa, and countless other community groups to make today’s announcement possible. While inclusion in the President’s budget is not a guarantee of congressional appropriations, it is a critical milestone in securing the completion of the project.
“Our veterans deserve the best care possible. Today President Trump reiterated this commitment to the Oklahoma veteran community by prioritizing investment for a new VA hospital in Tulsa,” said Lankford. “Last year, Congress increased funding to the Department of Veterans Affairs to fulfill the MISSION Act which provides specialty care for veterans closer to home. 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. The Tulsa community will help provide care for our Oklahoma veterans in the eastern part of the state, allowing the VA to focus on services that are veteran-specific and enabling non-federal providers to partner with the VHA for additional services for our veterans.”
“Taking care of our veterans is more than having good policies in place,” said Inhofe. “It’s also about ensuring that our facilities can provide exemplary service, specialized care and are accessible for our veterans. President Trump’s budget presents a roadmap for the future of our veterans care. Building a new hospital in Tulsa to serve a greater number of veterans in the region and installing a new behavioral health center in the Muskogee facility cements eastern Oklahoma’s importance to providing high-quality care for our veterans and addressing specialized care needs.
“This proposal positions the Muskogee VA to grow in the future. Muskogee provides vibrant community support and deep-rooted connection to serving veterans, so this new investment, which will increase the number of beds, enables the facility to transform its mission into a specialized care center for behavioral health,” Inhofe continued.
“I will never forget the USA Today headline from 2015—the one that outlined how we were falling short in taking care of our veterans in Oklahoma. I’ve passed laws to change the policies that enabled the bad behavior; I’ve increased accountability at our facilities, including having outside auditors evaluate the facilities; but today is a big step. The president’s budget, after extensive conversations and input, recognizes Oklahoma’s commitment to our veterans. Accordingly, we’re growing our VA presence in eastern Oklahoma, showing that we want to continue to provide the highest quality of service for all of our veterans, especially those with specialized care needs.
Inhofe concluded: “Getting to this point took years of effort at the federal, state, city and community levels. Today is a true milestone for veterans care in Oklahoma—not just for today’s veterans, but for future generations.”
“We owe no greater debt than to the men and women who have put their lives on the line to defend our freedoms and President Trump’s budget clearly demonstrates his commitment to our veterans,” Mullin said. “Today is a step in the right direction to ensure our veterans get the quality, accessible health care they need. Building a new VA hospital in Tulsa and transforming the Muskogee VA into a specialty behavioral health facility will improve care for veterans across Eastern Oklahoma. I thank Senator Inhofe for his tireless leadership on this and I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure this funding is included in appropriations.”
“President Trump has consistently stood up for the respect and proper care of our veterans,” Hern said. “His budget proposal includes important funds for the new VA facility in Tulsa, helping to provide care to the veterans of Oklahoma’s First District with an accessible and top-of-the-line facility. The President’s commitment to supporting veterans’ health centers in the area is a win for Oklahoma and certainly a win for our veteran community. Senator Inhofe is to be applauded for his leadership on the Senate Armed Services Committee, as he has played a key role in the revitalization of our nation’s VA system. Now that the President’s budget proposal has been submitted to Congress, my work on the House Budget Committee can begin. We have a tough hill to climb, but I’m ready to dig in and do the hard work of getting a budget through Congress.”
“This announcement is a win for our veterans in Eastern Oklahoma and across our entire state,” Stitt said. “President Trump’s decision to prioritize significant funding for Oklahoma’s veteran health care system is a testament to the hard work, vision and commitment of Senator Inhofe, who has served as a strong champion for our veterans as the chair of the U.S. Armed Services Committee, and our entire Oklahoma delegation. This project is a true example of how we can leverage public-private partnerships in order to ensure we are providing our veterans with the quality care and support they deserve, and I look forward to working with our federal, state, local and community partners in order to see this across the finish line.”
“This is about building a healthcare system that will meet the needs of Veterans in Eastern Oklahoma now and for decades to come. We are truly thankful for the support and collaborative effort from our congressional and community stakeholders, including the offices of Senators Inhofe and Lankford; Representatives Mullin and Hern; Governor Stitt; Mayor Bynum; Oklahoma State University; The Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation; and the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System staff,” Mark E. Morgan, FACHE, Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System, said. “While the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center will continue to be the light upon the hill in Muskogee, this exciting new addition, once completed, will allow us to expand needed behavioral health, rehabilitation, and potentially long-term care, for the Veterans of Eastern Oklahoma and across the state.”
Eastern Oklahoma is home to over 115,000 veterans and is an important part of the national network of veterans care facilities across the country. This budget guarantees that importance for decades to come, not only by building a new hospital in Tulsa, but also by investing in a specialty care facility in Muskogee to address the documented need for greater mental health services in the area.
Today’s budget will enable us to:
· Serve more veterans: Estimates predict that a Tulsa-area hospital could serve up to 30 percent more veterans each year. Northeast Oklahoma is currently home to more than 115,000 veterans, and an estimated two-thirds live close to Tulsa. In addition to serving more veterans, a VA hospital in Tulsa would reduce driving time significantly for a majority of veterans and would give access to a broader array of social services.
· Provide a higher quality of care: locating in Tulsa, near a teaching hospital, will improve recruitment for doctors and skilled nursing positions. This will overcome many shortages and recruitment challenges faced by the VA.
· Look to the future: With a growing veterans population in Oklahoma, building a new hospital will preserve options for future growth. Additionally, community research has consistently shown that more behavioral health services are needed in eastern Oklahoma. Creating a specialty care facility at the current Muskogee VA will help address those needs.
Since the 2015 USA Today article, Inhofe has been working to improve veterans’ health care in Oklahoma—by improving policies and facilities that serve our veterans. Today’s action is a continuation of his work. It’s also important to note that the VA inpatient facility in Tulsa will also streamline care and referrals at the new outpatient VA facility in South Tulsa. Inhofe has worked since 2016 to resolve a contracting issue so the VA could open the new clinic in Tulsa.
The new VA hospital will be funded partially through the Communities Helping Invest through Property and Improvements Needed (CHIP-IN) program, a program that allows VA facilities to be constructed through a public-private partnership—resulting in lower costs and faster completion of projects. In the case of the Tulsa VA, the partnership is with the State of Oklahoma, the City of Tulsa, and a non-profit team made up of OSU Medical and the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation.
This is also significant beyond just what it means for Oklahoma veterans. This would be just the second use of the CHIP-IN program for a VA facility and the largest project completed through this program. The previous project that was completed under CHIP-IN was for a VA Ambulatory Care Center in Omaha, NE. This is the first time CHIP-IN will be used for an entire hospital.
Additionally, Inhofe secured Secretary Wilkie’s commitment on transitioning the Muskogee VA into a behavioral health facility that will make it a thriving facility for decades to come. This project is currently still in the concept phase, but Wilkie wrote to Inhofe in November of 2019 to state his commitment to the future of the facilities in Muskogee.
Here is what it took to get to today:
· Dec 2016 – CHIP-IN for Veterans Act becomes law
· 2017 – Need identified for Behavioral Health Center in eastern Oklahoma
· 2018 – Need identified for a new inpatient facility in northeast Oklahoma
· December 2018 – Inhofe led Lankford, Hern and Mullin in a letter to Secretary Wilkie, first bringing the community’s needs to his attention
· March 2019 – President Trump’s budget for Fiscal Year 2020 recognized the need for a new Inpatient Facility in eastern Oklahoma.
· September 2019 – Inhofe secured language in the Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill to direct VA to utilize CHIP-IN for eastern Oklahoma. This direction from Inhofe was necessary as the CHIP-IN authority was being under-utilized and set to expire in 2021.
· September 2019 – Inhofe called Secretary Wilkie to discuss how critical it was for the new Tulsa VA hospital to be built and to answer any questions Secretary Wilkie would have. A few weeks prior to the call, Wilkie visited Oklahoma’s VA facilities and recognized it as a needed priority.
· October 2019 – Inhofe led Lankford, Hern and Mullin in a letter to Secretary Wilkie that followed up on numerous conversations with the Trump Administration to request the amount of money that would be required. Wilkie’s response was favorable.
· November 2019 –Inhofe discussed the need in person with Secretary Wilkie for this funding to be included in the fiscal year 2021 budget.
· January 2020 – Inhofe wrote a letter to Acting Director Vought of the Office of Management and Budget to identify this as top priority for Inhofe, Oklahoma and our nation’s veterans.
What comes next – expected timeline:
2020 – VA CHIP-IN approval and congressional appropriation. Having the funding included in the President’s budget makes appropriations this funding cycle possible.
2021 – Target build start
2023 – Construction complete