The VA Has Not Updated Its Climate Assessments and Plans In Five Years

Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP

While the Defense Department has had to provide annual reports to Congress on the expected impacts of climate change on military installations and operations, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) had not done a similar assessment since 2014 Senators Elizabeth Warren and Brian Schatz recently wrote to the VA urging the Department urging them to start better preparing for climate change, noting that extreme weather events have already disrupted operations at a host of department sites.

Why This Matters:  There are many facilities providing vital services to veterans that have been already or will be detrimentally impacted by climate change. Veterans already experience inexcusably long wait times for services and health care in some regions of the country — those should not be longer on account of climate change impacts that should have been anticipated by the agency.

VA Must Factor Climate Change Into Risk Assessments

According to the Senators’ letter, natural disasters and extreme weather events have adversely affected VA infrastructure and operations at facilities across the country in recent years, including in Louisiana, Texas, New York, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Puerto Rico.  As the Senators explained in their letter, “VA, like all federal agencies, has finite resources and must balance competing budget priorities. However, those priorities must include adapting VA infrastructure and operations to climate risks.”  The VA had significant supply and staffing issues after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in 2017.  Similarly, after Hurricane Florence struck the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina in 2018, numerous VA medical sites were closed for days after the powerful storm dumped up to 30 inches of rain on some sections of the state, and some 200 patients had to be evacuated to other facilities and more than 5,000 patient appointments were canceled because of the hurricane and its aftermath.

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