VA will retain, but not restore, services in Miles City

he Veterans Affairs System offering the Custer County Commissioners the local VA property is a direct result of all federal agencies being directed to reduce the footprint of their owned property by 20 percent, according to VA Montana Health Care System’s Public Affairs Officer Mike Garcia.

The health care for veterans should not be effected by this action, officials said.

The process to divest of the buildings must begin in 2016 and be completed by 2018, Garcia said in an email Monday afternoon.

He explained that this process results from two documents: the President’s National Strategy for Real Property, and the related Reduce the Footprint policy.

A March 25, 2015 memorandum on implementation of the footprint reduction states federal departments and agencies “shall move aggressively to dispose of surplus properties held by the federal government, make more efficient use of the government’s real property assets, and reduce the total square footage (of domestic offices and warehouse inventory)” and federally owned properties.

The National Strategy for Real Property is aimed toward better utilizing space, consolidating property and disposing of property.

Also on March 25, 2015, a document was released on the Freeze the Footprint policy.

The document states the federal government must freeze its real estate footprint and restrict the growth of excess or underutilized properties.

From fiscal year (FY) 2012 through FY 2014, the federal government  reduced its holdings by 21.4 million square feet. In 2014 alone, according to government documents, 7,350 buildings were eliminated.

At a public meeting staged by the Custer County Commissioners this past Thursday many veterans said they wanted the VA to reverse their decision to get rid of the property .

Others said they wanted the VA to reopen its hospital in Miles City, which closed in the 1990s.

Garcia addressed this concern: “I would assume if there is an option for reversal it would likely come from the White House or the President’s designated representative for this effort.” 

There are no plans to close Miles City’s VA clinic or nursing home. If the new owner of the property would decide not to rent to Veterans Affairs, an alternate location would be found for the clinic, and nursing home patients would be placed in privately owned nursing homes in the area, it was learned at last week’s meeting.

“It’s important to remember that this is a real estate matter. Regardless of where in Miles City the services are offered, VA Montana is firmly committed to serving veterans in the Miles City area without disrupting the access to or quality of care there,” Garcia said.

 At Thursday’s meeting, Sen. Jon Tester’s VA liaison Bruce Knutson said there are 14 clinics in Montana and only two of them (Miles City and Ft. Harrison) are in buildings owned by the VA. 

Garcia said this will be a lengthy process that is just beginning. Should Custer County ultimately decline the transfer, VA would not expect to have a final determination for the future of the property for at least a year in large part because the legislation passed in 2000 allowing the property to be given to Custer County will require an amendment or repeal in order to move toward declaring the property excess with the General Services Administration (GSA).