The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) committed the last of its $1.8 billion in Recovery Act funds July 31, one of the first federal agencies to achieve that milestone. Projects at more than 1,200 sites in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico will increase access to health care and services to Veterans, while creating jobs and stimulating the economy.

"Veterans across the Nation are benefiting from these Recovery Act funds," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "Recovery Act projects are improving medical care, speeding claims processing, enhancing our national cemeteries, advancing our energy efficiency, and generating jobs for Americans."

VA rapidly put American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) funding to work to improve its medical facilities, revitalize its national cemeteries, hire claims processors, upgrade technology systems and assist states in acquiring, building or remodeling state nursing homes and domiciliary facilities for Veterans.

The funding received by VA is part of President Obama's economic recovery plan to improve services to America's Veterans. By obligating these funds quickly, VA is revitalizing its infrastructure and moving needed money into the economy.

Using Recovery Act funds, VA entered into 1,521 contracts with 696 contractors. Three-quarters of the contractors are Veterans owned businesses, either service disabled Veteran owned businesses or Veteran owned small businesses.

Health Care Services Enhanced

VA obligated $1 billion to improve VA medical care facilities across the country through building renovations, roadway and walkway repairs, high cost equipment replacement, security improvements, new construction, replacement of steam lines and boiler plants, upgrades in emergency power distribution, and purchases of additional emergency generators among others.

To help Veterans access care, Recovery Act projects in VA medical facilities will add or improve more than 26,000 parking spaces and 39 elevator banks are being built or upgraded. VA will upgrade nearly 14,000 inpatient bed spaces, while 16 pharmacy renovation projects will help Veterans get medicines quicker and more efficiently. More than 14,400 clinical improvement projects, some with multiple exam rooms, will be undertaken.

Funds are also helping ensure VA health care facilities function more efficiently (by reducing annual recurring maintenance and upkeep cost) and are equipped to provide world-class care to Veterans.

Specific projects include: Bedford, Mass., VA Medical Center (VAMC) mental health unit renovation, $7.165 million Philadelphia VAMC emergency room renovations, $4.74 million Cleveland VAMC surgical suite refurbishment, $8.5 million New Haven, Conn., VAMC private and semi-private inpatient units, $7.743 million Hines, Ill., VAMC electrical distribution infrastructure upgrade, $8 million VA serves 5.5 million Veterans annually in its hospitals, outpatient clinics and rural health programs.

Energy Conservation

VA is promoting energy conservation and reducing its environmental footprint by investing $200 million in Recovery Act funds for renewable energy generation technologies, metering systems, and energy conservation and water-saving measures. In total, the renewable energy systems awarded represent more than 9 megawatts of planned power generating capacity from solar, wind, and cogeneration technologies.

Two national cemeteries, in Bourne, Mass., and San Joaquin, Calif., anticipate producing enough electricity to supply nearly all of their energy needs.

VA is installing solar photovoltaic systems at facilities in Albuquerque, N.M.; Tucson, Ariz.; Dublin, Ga.; Calverton, N.Y.; San Joaquin, Calif., and Riverside, Calif.

VA is erecting a wind turbine in Bourne, Mass., and is constructing a geothermal system at its medical center in St. Cloud, Minn.

In addition, VA is building renewably fueled cogeneration systems at five medical facilities: Togus, Maine; White River Junction, Vt.; Chillicothe, Ohio; Loma Linda, Calif.; and Canandaigua, N.Y.

VA is installing metering systems at all VA-owned facilities to monitor energy utilities, including electricity, water, chilled water, steam, and natural gas consumption.

VA is also investing $197 million in energy and water infrastructure improvements. VA facilities across the country are upgrading their facilities to reduce energy consumption and water usage and better manage related costs.

Claims Processing Improvements

VA is working to improve the systems for processing claims to more quickly and efficiently deliver benefits to Veterans. VA has obligated $150 million to hire, train and equip new employees to improve claims processing and speed the delivery of benefits to Veterans. VA has hired approximately 2,700 temporary and permanent employees to assist with processing Veterans' claims for VA benefits.

National Cemeteries Revitalized

Throughout VA's system of 131 national cemeteries, 391 improvement projects are underway using $50 million in Recovery Act funding. VA is restoring and preserving 49 historic monuments and memorials, becoming more energy efficient by investing in renewable energy sources (solar and wind), moving forward on nine energy conservation projects, and improving access and visitor safety with 49 road, paving and grounds improvement projects.

Recovery Act funds are also being used to raise, realign, and clean approximately 200,000 headstones and markers, repair sunken graves, and renovate turf at 22 VA national cemeteries.

One-time Benefit Payments

The Recovery Act provided one-time $250 economic recovery payments to eligible Veterans, their survivors, and dependents to help mitigate the effects of the current economy. $7.1 million were intended for administrative support of the one-time benefit payments. VA was able to successfully administer the program with a savings of approximately $6.1 million, and may return the remaining funds to the US Treasury.

Source: Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

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