Senator Collins Questions Veterans Affairs Secretary on Need to Support Veterans’ Homes Without Delay

Washington, D.C. - At a hearing to review the fiscal year 2024 budget request for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, questioned Secretary Denis McDonough on the importance of Veteran Affairs (VA) partnering with rural communities and supporting their veterans’ homes. Senator Collins also questioned Secretary McDonough on the delays in VA rulemaking, highlighting her legislation, the State Veterans Homes Domiciliary Care Flexibility Act.  Despite it being signed into law December 2020, the VA is still in the rulemaking process two years after the bill’s enactment.

At the hearing, Senator Collins:

Like the Chair, I am the daughter of a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, was wounded twice, earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. So, making sure that our veterans receive the care that they've earned is personally very important to me.

Last year, Maine Veterans' Homes announced its intention to close two of the six veterans' homes, around the state. Fortunately, these proposed closures, which would have been devastating for our veterans and for their families, were blocked. Maine's veterans' homes' facilities in rural parts of our state fill a critical need, and they allow our veterans to stay close to their loved ones. One of the homes targeted for closure was in my hometown of Caribou, where my father spent the last months of his life.

At my request, last year, the fiscal year 2023 Appropriations Bill directed the VA to report on various actions the department, or Congress, could take to expand support for safe veterans' homes, especially in rural areas at risk of closure. Possible solutions include, increasing the per diem reimbursement rates, expanding eligibility for care, actions to address the critical shortage of health care professionals. That report is due to be delivered to Congress at the end of this month. In the meantime, can you share with us your suggestions for ways that we can partner to support these rural, state veterans' homes, that are so vital to our veterans?

Secretary McDonough:

I think we're very proud of our partnership with the states, and our joint efforts to fund the state veterans' homes. We have- mindful of the demands in the states- we've now maxed out what we can do for per diem, which is one way that allows us to support veterans in state run homes. And then, we're looking for ways to increase the grant funding that we make to the states, every year. So, you'll see that the President's request this year anticipates an increase on last year's investment, for the state grant levels. Last year itself was an increase, and a historically high one at that. So, we're continually looking for ways to increase our partnership, and the federal portion of that partnership, either through per diem, or through grants, as we develop new facilities. Lastly, the non-recurring maintenance, which is a big part of our infrastructure request, at $5.2 billion, envisions us making sure that we're doing our part in facilities, including in places like Maine, where, given extreme weather, we have fairly significant non-recurring maintenance requirements. So, in each of these channels, we're trying to crank the volume as much as we can.

Senator Collins:

Another action that would help our state veterans' homes, would be for the VA to finish quickly its rulemaking to implement legislation I authored, that was enacted into law in December of 2020. This law requires the VA to implement a waiver authority to provide the flexibility to pay per diem for veterans with early stage dementia, when that's in the best interest of the veteran. However, more than two years have passed since the enactment of this legislation, and the VA is still in the rulemaking process. Why has it taken so long to complete this rulemaking? And could you give us an update?

Secretary McDonough:

The update I can give you is that I'm as frustrated as you are, with the slowness of it. So, my commitment to you is that we'll get this done with dispatch. And, you know, we do have a stack-up of regulations, especially out of the big statutory packages at the end of 2020, and at the end of 2022, but that's no excuse. We'll make sure that we get this done.


As the Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Collins is pressing forward with Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) to hold subcommittee hearings on the President’s budget request.  These hearings provide an important opportunity to assess our country’s needs for the coming year and will help guide Senators Collins and Murray’s efforts to write the annual government funding bills.