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THE FREE LANCE–STAR’S Aug. 3 editorial [“Warner chastises foot-dragging VA”] incorrectly accused the Department of Veterans Affairs of slowing down the approval of two new VA clinics in Virginia.

Federal projects of this size and scope can move slowly. But judging by the FLS’ misunderstanding of the facts, the two projects in question might be moving a little too quickly for the paper to keep up.

Here are the facts:

A 2017 law authorized leases for 28 new VA facilities, including one in Hampton Roads and another in Fredericksburg. VA and the General Services Administration are shepherding these projects. Both have done their jobs and have requested approval from two additional congressional committees, as required by law.

Before those requests get to Congress, they must go through the Office of Management and Budget, and that’s where they were when the FLS accused the VA of “infuriating” delays.

But we are on time with these proposals, and there have been no delays whatsoever.

Your editorial seemed to be based solely on a July 12 letter from Sen. Mark Warner, D–Va., who asked VA and GSA to move more quickly on the two facilities. A week later, Warner wrote a second letter that recognized the matter was now moving through OMB—something you failed to tell your readers.

As the FLS pointed out, it may take until 2023 to get the Fredericksburg clinic up and running, six years after Congress approved it. But that is about how long projects of this size take when the government adheres to the complex federal laws that govern these leases.

If Congress wants to change the law to speed things up, it can choose to do so. But blaming the VA for a lengthy process that is set out in federal law is unfair and uninformed.

The Free Lance–Star compounded its error by arguing that “forcing sick veterans to wait” is “still routine in the VA system,” and dragged up a five-year-old wait time scandal that happened under the Obama administration that has long since been corrected.

Contrary to what the FLS claimed, a study released this year shows that wait times at VA hospitals are shorter than those in the private sector in primary care and two of three specialty care areas. And in most cases, VA care is as good or better than private care.

The paper then cherry-picked data showing that emergency admissions at some VA hospitals are longer than average. The piece cited a USA Today analysis, but conveniently left out where USA Today got its data: from VA.

We are publishing wait time data publicly to understand where we need to improve, and then focus resources on those areas. This is what organizations do when they are improving, while failing organizations hide the ball.

The editorial made one point we agree with: Virginia is a veteran-heavy state. We would hope The Free Lance–Star can serve its veteran readership better than this in the future by learning the subject matter and conveying facts instead of skimming the surface and taking pot shots.

James Hutton is assistant secretary for public & intergovernmental affairs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

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