- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 19, 2017

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - A nonprofit corporation announced Wednesday that it’s signed an agreement with federal officials to raise $30 million for a new veterans outpatient clinic in Omaha. Officials said it’s the first of five public-private pilot projects nationwide for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The local money will be added to $56 million already appropriated for the new clinic, which will be part of the VA’s Nebraska/Western Iowa Health Care System. The $86 million facility will be built on the campus of the current VA hospital in Omaha.

“This project will lay the groundwork for future public-private partnerships aimed at providing veterans access to state-of-the-art facilities and will significantly improve the quality of care we are able to provide to our nation’s veterans,” said Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin in a news release.

President Barack Obama in December signed a measure, dubbed the Chip In for Vets Act, that allows the public-private partnership. It was sponsored by U.S. Rep Brad Ashford, who represented Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District until losing his bid for re-election in November.

VA officials have said the clinic that will be called the Veterans Affairs Ambulatory Center will offer primary, specialty and ambulatory care and operate radiological and surgical facilities. The current hospital will remain standing, and once the ambulatory care center is built, the hospital will be used primarily for administrative operations with some medical services, said Nebraska/Western Iowa Health Care System spokesman William Ackerman.

He couldn’t immediately say where the four other pilot projects will occur. VA officials in Washington didn’t immediately return messages.

Design work on the Omaha project will continue through 2017, and officials anticipate site work and construction will begin in early 2018, said Sue Morris, president of Heritage Services, a nonprofit civic group involved in the project.

A 2007 study found the current Omaha hospital was plagued by problems in its electrical, heating and cooling systems. In 2011, the VA unveiled plans for a $560 million replacement. Congress approved $56 million to start the project planning, and the new structure tentatively was scheduled to open in 2018. But the plans and work were delayed by funding shortages and changing VA priorities.

The public-private project had been projected to cost $136 million - $56 million from federal sources, $80 million from local benefactors. But Ackerman said the figure was decreased after details were refined since the number was discussed after Obama signed the legislation.

The local corporation, the Veterans Ambulatory Center Development Corp., which will oversee design, construction and fundraising, was created by Heritage Services. Heritage Services was instrumental in creating major Omaha projects such as the Holland Performing Arts Center and TD Ameritrade Park, where the College World Series is held.

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com

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