|"To the distinguished Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to discuss with you today. I have a story about the veterans in my district in California. This is central California; this is Bakersfield – Kern County. I’ve had the privilege to represent them for quite some time.|
"But, for far too long, thousands of veterans throughout Kern County have patiently waited for a new Community-Based Outpatient Clinic to be built in Bakersfield, California. Now, the existing clinic is outdated and cramped — and we can’t fulfill the needs of the growing veteran [population] we have in Kern County. So ten years ago, Congress authorized the construction of 15 new Community-Based Outpatient Clinics, including a clinic in Bakersfield, in Public Law 111-82. Now, the Bakersfield clinic is the only location that remains unbuilt. That’s unacceptable.
"I want to tell you the story [of] why it’s not built…
"Now first, veterans in my district had hope that the VA would break ground on the new clinic all the way back in 2015. However, that hope was derailed when the VA’s chosen site was condemned by the High-Speed Rail Authority for being in the path of the costly high-speed rail project that now the new Governor has actually declined to build. This was among the first of several unnecessary delays and setbacks for the clinic.
"Now last October we thought we solved this one more time. I was thrilled to announce that the VA had finally awarded a contract for a brand-new, state-of-the-art 30,000 square foot Bakersfield clinic, located on Knudsen Drive. This clinic would provide veterans with expanded mental health and… [women’s health care] services. Unfortunately, this award has become subject to…dilatory protests. And you know who’s protesting? The current owner of the land where the current clinic is that’s outdated. One after another after another he protests, because if he protests, there’s a dirty little secret – he gets rewarded. He protests – so the veterans do not get a new facility, but you know what he gets in his? They double his lease. They double his lease payment. The VA was paying him $1 million a month, but now that the new center is delayed he gets $2 million a month. And you know who’s protesting? He’s protesting. So because he protests, he doubles his rent. And because he doubles his rent, the veterans are denied a new facility…Our own law rewards somebody stopping our veterans from having their own clinic and actually puts money in their pocket.
"Enough is enough.
"While I understand that the government contracting process must allow for fair competition, I do not understand how this process can be so manipulated and how the Bakersfield clinic remains unbuilt while other VA facilities authorized in 2009 are currently serving veterans.
"As I said, the taxpayers are now getting ripped off. The veterans are now being denied [care] and the person causing it all is being rewarded. That should not work in this system. He’s approximately getting twice as much – $2 million a month – for a lease on a building that does not fulfill the needs of our own veterans.
"Every day of delay is another day the taxpayer must pay the higher rent. And if he is successful, they’ll go back to the drawing board, and not even use the location that they have already selected that works…
"Lastly, the difficulty in building a new clinic in Bakersfield suggests that the federal government’s process for awarding contracts is liable to inefficiency and abuse.
"I hope my testimony today has shined a light on one part of this larger problem and will inspire future action. I look forward to working with your committee and all Committee Members to ensure that the Bakersfield clinic comes to fruition and that other veteran populations are not impacted by this broader systemic problem.
"If they’re successful with what they’re doing today, I will not be the only district that this happens to. Everyone who has an outdated facility will stop the improvement because they’ll be rewarded in their own process, but who will be denied are actually the veterans. I think we’re better than that, I actually think it says a lot about our nation about how we treat our veterans.
"That’s why I would like to submit a letter from SASD Development Group for the record, and I thank you for the opportunity to testify today.”