- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2015

More than two dozen Veterans Affairs clinics in earthquake danger zones have structural problems the department still hasn’t fixed, the VA’s inspector general said in a report Thursday that says leaders have been stunningly slow to get a handle on the situation.

The report comes four decades years after a disastrous earthquake in San Fernando, California, demolished a VA hospital, killing 47 people and bringing the issue into stark relief.

The inspector general said the VA has 97 “critical” buildings in earthquake danger zones and 28 of them still have structural problems the department hasn’t fixed, and 15 buildings haven’t even been evaluated for earthquake safety.

The VA is renting 46 buildings in “high and very high seismic zones,” but 23 of them hadn’t been signed off on for being earthquake safe. The inspector general’s office said that contracting officers in charge of conducting building reviews did not always know they were supposed to obtain seismic certificates or the building plans to look at its earthquake safety.

After the 1971 earthquake, the VA required its buildings to meet international building codes. The 29 VA facilities built since then are up to pace, but some older VA facilities and rentals still don’t meet those codes.

The VA says it would need $8.6 billion in the 2016 budget in order to make sure all their buildings in earthquake zones were modernized to meet the higher standards, but only $1.7 billion was approved.

“Consequently, there is an increased risk of injury and loss of life to the veterans and employees who might find themselves in seismically deficient buildings during an earthquake, until VA can complete the projects needed to correct the seismic deficiencies,” the report said.

Many of the buildings that need to be retrofitted to withstand earthquakes are in Southern California, but the earthquake zone extends up to Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii. It also stretches inland as far as Colorado, and parts of Kansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and Mississippi.

The VA looked into earthquake safety at the request of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, following a U.S. Geological Survey that estimated in March that there is a 99 percent chance California will suffer a devastating earthquake of a 6.7 or greater magnitude within the next 30 years.

The VA’s contingency plans for operating during and after an earthquake were largely inadequate, and investigators said that meant they might not be able to “keep essential facilities and functions operational after an earthquake.”

Dr. David Shulkin, head of the Veterans Health Administration, said that he had an “action plan” to make sure all hospitals had contingency plans.

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