Durbin, Akaka, Bean: Lovell Health Center One Step Closer to Completion

Legislation introduced today by Durbin and Senate Colleague may be considered by Senate Committee this week

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) was joined today by the Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Daniel Akaka (D-HI) in introducing legislation needed to complete the James A Lovell Federal Health Care Center. The legislation – which Durbin has asked the Senate Armed Services Committee to consider for inclusion in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act later this week – gives authority to the Navy and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to jointly operate the new Federal Health Care Center. Congresswoman Melissa Bean (D-IL) introduced similar legislation – co-sponsored by Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL) – in the House of Representatives earlier this year.


“I have been working for nearly a decade on this health care center that combines the services of the North Chicago VA Medical Center and the Naval Health Clinic Great Lakes in order to better serve Illinois veterans and military personnel,” said Durbin. “Designing today’s legislation has taken months of detailed negotiation and now Congress must act on it in order to make the new health center a reality. I will continue to work with Congresswoman Bean and Senator Akaka to push this project over the final hurdle.”


“This legislation brings us closer to providing a national model for interagency collaboration that reaps the benefits of teamwork without sacrificing worker’s rights and benefits,” said Chairman Akaka. “The need for the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to work together is obvious, especially in this time of war. I commend Senator Durbin for working to craft this agreement for the good of the millions of men and women who count on them every day.”


“Combining the VA Medical Center with the Naval Health Clinic is critical to providing active duty personnel, veterans, and military retirees the necessary quality care they deserve,” Bean said. “This joint facility will also save the taxpayers $80 million in construction costs, ensuring we use our resources efficiently and effectively. I commend Senators Durbin and Akaka for their partnership on this important project.”


For the last year, Durbin and Bean have worked tirelessly with stakeholders to fine-tune language that will allow the North Chicago facility to operate as has been envisioned for years--as an integrated facility of the armed services and the VA. Additionally, Durbin worked with Akaka to encourage the VA to address this issue in the agency’s 2010 budget. In May, it was announced that the VA did exactly that, making it easier for Congress to work with the Administration to complete the North Chicago project.


When complete, the Lovell Federal Health Care Center will be the first health care facility in the nation to be operated jointly between the VA and the Navy, saving taxpayers millions of dollars that would otherwise have been needed to rebuild or renovate the Navy’s nearby hospital. However, without this legislation, the Center will not be able to provide essential services to thousands of military beneficiaries in the region. Beneficiaries who had previously received care at the Naval Health Clinic Great Lakes would either be ineligible for care or would be required to make a co-pay or have a cost-share for certain care, including emergency, hospitalization, outpatient, and behavioral health services.


Today’s legislation includes several provisions to ensure that the James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center will be able to open as planned in 2010. The legislation:


• Allows the Navy to transfer civilian employee positions to the VA while maintaining pay, seniority, and other benefits. Without this authority, the Center would have to operate under two separate employment systems, making staffing and caring for patients difficult and confusing.


• Designates the Center as a “facility of the uniformed services” which prevents retirees and their dependents from having to make co-payments in order to receive care. Without this designation, Defense Department beneficiaries would not be eligible for the kind of care for which they are eligible at other Defense Department military treatment facilities.


• Establishes a joint fund to allow the Navy and the VA to contribute and share funds for property maintenance costs and minor construction projects. Without this fund, it would not be possible to coordinate equipment purchases, and future maintenance and construction efforts between the two agencies.


• Allows the Navy to transfer certain facilities to the VA. Without this authority, the Navy would not be able to transfer the ambulatory care center, parking structure, supporting facilities, and related medical personal property and equipment to the VA.


Earlier this year, Durbin and Bean joined the Secretary of the VA, Eric Shinseki, at the Lovell Center for a round table discussion on the need for legislative language to clear the remaining hurdles in merging the Navy and VA hospitals at North Chicago. Secretary Shinseki’s visit followed a January meeting with Durbin, who stressed the importance of the efforts in North Chicago on the eve of Shinseki’s confirmation.


Senator Durbin has played a major role over the last decade in the development of the new Lovell Federal Health Care Center. After the VA announced plans in 1999 to close the North Chicago VA Medical Center, he brought Illinois House and Senate members together to request an investigation into the possibility of having the Navy and the VA enter into a joint agreement for use of the facility. Senator Durbin later passed language requiring the Navy to expand the use of the hospital and to work with the VA to finalize site selection for the joint ambulatory care center and construction design.


Likewise, Congresswoman Bean has been dedicated to development of the joint center for years. In the 110th Congress and again in this Congress, she introduced legislation to designate the joint center as a military treatment facility. This will allow the transfer of property from a purely civilian use and will bring the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center into the TRICARE network for active duty personnel. Without this fix, active duty military families would be forced to pay a $150 co-pay each time they see a doctor at the facility.