The Department of Veterans Affairs has started construction of a new Regional Office in Boise on the grounds of the VA Medical Center near Fort Boise. The project means veterans won't have to stop in at the current leased location on Eighth and Franklin streets before continuing up to the VA for treatment. It will meet the VA's high standards for design, including Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED certification. And, according to Sen. Larry Craig who helped secure the funding and spoke at a groundbreaking on Aug. 13, having the regional office on the grounds of the hospital will eliminate a large barrier for veterans.
"I have spent more than a decade supporting veterans' issues, and this groundbreaking is a capstone to a lot of hard work accomplished on behalf of Idaho and American veterans," wrote Craig, formerly a ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
But the $8 million project comes at a time when the VA system is being stretched to its limits. While representatives of several veteran service organizations praised Craig's commitment to veterans, Craig has been steadfast in opposing the rapid increase in the Veterans Affairs budget in recent years.
"In the past, I have spoken at length about impending collisions between VA spending and the spending of other federal programs. Well ... the collision is upon us, except it does not resemble a collision at all," Craig said at a February 2007 budget hearing. "It, rather, resembles the VA in an 18-wheeler headed down the federal road and running over the top of other agencies in its process."
Congress has increased spending on the VA by 77 percent during the Bush administration's eight years, with both Republican and Democratic congresses regularly recommending higher budgets than the president.
Still, an analysis by a large coalition of veterans' groups, called the Independent Budget, finds that the VA is still being underfunded by some $3 billion as the number of vets seeking benefits continues to climb and health care costs soar.
The Boise Regional Office, which serves about 136,000 vets and administers more than $14 million in benefits, left the Federal Building in 1993 and moved to a leased building nearby. The new Regional Office is expected to be completed next year on the grounds of a former parking lot off of Fort Street.