VA Agrees to Tester Call to Delay Deadline for Custer Country to Decide on Property Transfer

Senator pushes VA to pay to demolish existing buildings on Miles City campus to better prepare location for future redevelopment and reduce the impact on Custer County taxpayers

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is agreeing to U.S. Senator Jon Tester’s call to extend the July 8, 2020 deadline for Custer County to decide whether they want to accept the Miles City campus as VA plans to transition care to new locations in the area. The Department is currently in the process of establishing a new leased Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) and Community Living Center (CLC) in nearby locations in Miles City. As Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Tester is continuing his push to assist Miles City in removing existing outdated buildings on VA’s campus so the land can be redeveloped.

“While I support the transition of services for veterans to other parts of Miles City, I am concerned by the potentially negative impact on the taxpayers of Miles City and Custer County who are being left to deal with the approximately 14.4 acres of land and buildings that sit in a flood plain,” wrote Tester to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Custer County has a population of approximately 12,000 and has a limited tax base. If the county were to take ownership of the Miles City campus or if it were to be sold or transferred to some other interested party, there remains significant work and resources required to repurpose this land to benefit the county and its economy. Without appropriate coordination and investment, there is risk for this property to become blighted.”

Tester continued, “These actions will allow this property to be better prepared for future redevelopment, either by the county or some other party, and reduce the impact on Custer County taxpayers.”

For years, Tester has consistently pushed VA to respond promptly and thoroughly to questions raised by county officials and veterans regarding a potential transfer of ownership of the Miles City campus to Custer County. In 2016, Tester sought an assurance from VA that any transfer of ownership would not disrupt care for local veterans and to reaffirm the Department’s commitment to maintaining a strong presence in Miles City. Tester has remained engaged with community leaders and VA as discussions about the property have continued.

VA in Fort Harrison has indicated that transitioning the current VA CLC patients to a VA staffed and managed space in an existing nursing home facility in Miles City will occur in fall 2020. Similarly, the Miles City CBOC is expected to move to a new VA-leased space, also in Miles City, in February 2021. Tester is continuing to work to ensure VA conducts this transition in an open, transparent, and efficient way in coordination with veterans and their families.

A copy of Tester’s letter can be found HERE.