California lawmakers are still trying to breathe life into a French Camp medical clinic designed to serve veterans living in the Northern San Joaquin Valley and Sierra Nevada foothills.
Now, the resuscitation effort is up to the Senate.
On Tuesday, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she will “continue to push” for California clinics including the one proposed for French Camp.
“We need more VA health facilities in the...Valley to help veterans access the health care they have earned and deserve,” Feinstein said. “While we must fix any problems with the VA’s construction process, these important projects must be allowed to advance.”
Feinstein’s California colleague, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, also said Tuesday that she supports funding the French Camp project and others that give veterans “access to the health care they need and deserve.”
Behind the scenes, lobbyists are pushing, as well. The lobbying firm Carpi & Clay, hired for $80,000 a year by San Joaquin County, includes “funding to construct new VA clinic” among the priorities identified on quarterly disclosure reports.
The proposed Department of Veterans Affairs’ community based outpatient clinic would serve an estimated 87,000 veterans, primarily living in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Calaveras, Tuolumne and Amador counties. Currently, the veterans can travel hours to reach a VA facility and return home.
The French Camp clinic, though, is also caught amid political cross-currents. Most recently, the House limited overall VA construction funding because of concerns over other over-budget projects.
“We felt that it was more important to provide necessary health services for veterans than to add to the poorly managed major construction account,” Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., said during House debate.
Citing projects like a still-unfinished Denver-area medical complex, whose construction budget soared by more than 400 percent, Dent helped write a Fiscal 2016 package that gave the Obama administration much less than it asked for. Where Obama sought $1.4 billion for VA construction, a 47 percent jump over the current year, the House bill provides $968 million.
Obama’s proposed 2016 budget included $139 million to construct the clinic on the French Camp property, which has already been bought. The House omitted this project, and by voice vote April 29 rejected an amendment by Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., to restore construction funding.
“Our veterans need this clinic now, not further delays,” McNerney said during debate.
The other House member whose district includes parts of San Joaquin County, Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., pointedly joined McNerney in voting against the overall bill. Denham was one of only four Republicans to oppose the bill.
Congress previously provided $55 million for land acquisition and planning for new Northern California clinics, in 2010. In 2011, officials selected the 52-acre site in French Camp, adjacent to the existing San Joaquin General Hospital, as well an Alameda County site for a separate facility.
The French Camp project is ultimately envisioned as a 150,000 square-foot clinic and a 120-bed veterans’ nursing home.
The House last month approved the overall $76.6 billion military construction and veterans affairs appropriations bill. The Senate will take up its own bill, following a two-hour April 21 subcommittee hearing. Key Senate Republicans seem to share House GOP concerns about poorly managed VA construction projects, raising doubts about their willingness to provide more money for new starts.
“People are losing faith,” Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said at the April 21 hearing. “Congress is losing faith.”