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World-Herald editorial: Fresh look at Omaha VA offers hope

World-Herald editorial: Fresh look at Omaha VA offers hope

The problem is well-known. But the solution has been mired in bureaucratic sluggishness. Omaha’s aging VA hospital needs to be replaced.

In 2007, a Department of Veterans Affairs study found the 65-year-old hospital inadequate and outdated, with problems in its electrical system, heating and cooling systems and more.

The VA identified a new Omaha hospital as a priority as far back as 2009. In 2011, it unveiled plans for a new, 1 million-square-foot medical center. Congress designated $56 million for planning.

Yet the project remains stalled.

Huge cost overruns at four other new VA hospitals have gobbled up funding. In Denver, costs ballooned to nearly three times the original $604 million price.

But there’s a glimmer of hope, it appears.

Rob Nabors, the VA’s new chief of staff, met this week with officials from the University of Nebraska and Creighton medical centers and local business leaders to hear ideas for the future of veterans care in the region. Members of Nebraska’s congressional delegation see a more flexible attitude among the VA brass.

Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb., said he believes the VA is ready to seriously consider some kind of public-private partnership, such as the lease-build option first pitched last year by his predecessor, Rep. Lee Terry. Local business interests would put up the money to build the hospital, then lease it back to the VA. Roger Lempke, the Nebraska National Guard’s former commander and now military aide to Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said the VA is “wide open to new ideas — much more so than they were six months ago.”

The people of the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System are providing high-quality care for the region’s vets. And a recent Associated Press survey of data found that the Omaha VA Medical Center ranked in the top three of 152 VA hospitals nationwide for seeing patients in a timely manner.

The system, its health care professionals and the 161,000 veterans they serve have earned some fresh thinking — and a modern hospital.

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