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Opinion by U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho)

America’s veterans were willing to give up everything to protect the freedoms we all enjoy, yet they are now seeing promises broken and blatant hypocrisy from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Across the country, there are state veterans projects in the works to provide health and housing. Projects of this scale take years to gain approval, secure contracts, start and finish construction, and finally provide for veterans. This extended process often means legislative and regulatory changes occur throughout a project’s lifespan.

The Build America, Buy America Act (BABAA) is an example. This law, which was enacted in 2022, requires federal building projects to use materials made in the U.S. BABAA has some good provisions—it creates jobs in America and supports domestic businesses and industries. It even includes a waiver process because materials sometimes must be sourced from elsewhere.

There are several ongoing projects that predate this legislation, including more than a dozen veterans’ health and housing facilities in states like Idaho, New York, Maryland, and more. Initially, the VA indicated that Secretary Denis McDonough would grant waivers for many of these projects since it is impossible for them to restart their processes and fully comply with these new sourcing requirements. However, after granting only two waivers, the VA changed course and has ceased to grant any more. The result: projects grinding to a halt. Some, such as the one in Boise, Idaho, have lost funding and others have stalled in case their projects will also be forced to wait endlessly for waivers promised but never delivered.

Secretary McDonough and other VA leadership are very aware of this issue. They have acknowledged it, but continue to refuse to grant these waivers – blocking projects that provide for the brave men and women who were willing to sacrifice everything for our nation. 

If the VA was simply abiding by BABAA because it believed it was the only law of the land, it would be frustrating but understandable. That is far from the case though. The VA itself is seeking similar Buy America waivers for its own facilities while it blocks waivers for state veterans facilities. It is the definition of hypocrisy.

America’s veterans deserve far better than this, but if the department refuses to grant waivers, Congress can force them.

With my legislation, the Waiving Arbitrary and Inconsistent Veteran home Eligibility Requirements (WAIVER) Act, the secretary of the VA would have no choice but to award waivers for veterans’ health and housing facilities granted permission to proceed with their projects prior to BABAA enactment. 

The WAIVER Act is legislative fix for a situation that was created and worsened by the secretary’s actions. But it will ensure projects from coast-to-coast can move forward, and it will enable facilities in Idaho, specifically Boise, Pocatello, and Lewiston, to get back on track. 

The choice is clear: Congress passes the WAIVER Act or the department gets their act together. America’s veterans cannot be caught in the VA’s error any longer.