By Sean CW Korsgaard
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – A pair of bills that would provide $66.7 million in state funding for new veterans care centers passed in the House of Delegates on Tuesday.
House Bills 1275 and 1276, which would fund construction of two 230-bed nursing care facilities in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, both were approved unanimously. The legislation now goes to the state Senate for consideration.
The bills have received heavy attention from Republicans, including U.S. Reps. Randy Forbes and Rob Wittman, House Majority Leader Kirk Cox of Colonial Heights, and Dels. Chris Stolle of Virginia Beach and Richard Anderson of Woodbridge.
Cox, Stolle and Anderson were among the chief sponsors of the bills.
“While we will never be able to fully repay Virginia’s veterans for their service to our country, we can all work to ensure that they receive the care they have earned,” Forbes said at a news conference Monday.
“There is a clear and pressing need for greater capacity to care for our Virginia veterans over the long term, and the passage of this legislation marks an important step toward meeting that need.”
Virginia is home to a number of large military bases, and over 780,000 veterans live within the commonwealth. Consequently, veterans’ issues are never far from the forefront of state politics.
The bills are the first of many addressing the needs of veterans that will come before the General Assembly this session. Supporters say the measures will provide long-overdue improvements to the health care system for veterans.
“When compared with Virginia, Oklahoma has half as many veterans, three times as many veterans care centers and more than three times as many beds in those centers,” Stolle said. “With federal action, we can build the veterans care centers to meet our needs in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.”
The $66.7 million allocated by the legislation represents the state’s 35 percent share of construction costs for the project. The federal government will pick up the remaining 65 percent, along with operational expenses. The total construction cost, including the federal match for the two centers, will be $190 million.
“There are about 200,000 veterans living in Northern Virginia alone, yet a Manassas resident faces a two-hour drive to visit a family member or loved one in the nearest Virginia Veterans Care Center,” Anderson said.
“Moving this legislation forward puts us that much closer to breaking ground and living up to our promise to be the most veteran-friendly state in the country.”
The Virginia Beach City Council has reserved 15-25 acres of city land as the site for the proposed Veterans Care Center in Hampton Roads.
There are two possible sites for the proposed Northern Virginia Care Center: one in Innovation Park in Prince William County, and the other on George Mason University’s Prince William County Campus.