April 14, 2022

VA Health facilities proposal gets pushback

Editor's note:  During a Town Hall meeting sponsored by the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) last week in Rapid City, Senator Mike Rounds told NewsCenter1 Television that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has recommended closing a number of medical facilities across the county and that  "unfortunately, they kind of 'piled on' rural facilities and that's going to hurt our veterans in South Dakota."  That same day, the story below – which appears here in its entirety –  was posted on the Senator's official website.  It deals primarily with VA recommendations that – if implemented – would have a significant impact upon medical services for Veterans across South Dakota and the nation.

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04.08.22

Rounds & Manchin to Biden: Don’t Cut VA Medical Services for Elderly Veterans

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, led a group of ten bipartisan senators in calling on President Biden to consult with Congress and local stakeholders on a state-by-state basis on the potential impacts the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission recommendations would have on elderly Veterans. 

“We write to you today expressing our extreme concern with the VA’s recommendations to the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission, as prescribed in Subtitle A of Title II of the VA MISSION Act,” the senators said in part. “The recommendations are overly focused on quantitative data that does not do enough to consider the impact the proposed changes would have on our Veterans, particularly elderly Veterans. We request that when you receive the final recommendations from the AIR Commission you consult our offices on a state-by-state basis for our feedback before you decide to approve or deny them.”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released its preliminary recommendations for the AIR commission to consider on Monday, March 14, which would significantly alter services provided to rural Veterans across the United States. On March 15, Rounds and Manchin led a bipartisan letter urging President Biden to make certain rural perspectives were taken into consideration by the AIR Commission.

“For many elderly Veterans, VA facilities are the only place they seek care. The reasons Veterans often cite are that they are better understood, respected, and cared for at their local VA Medical Center (VAMC). VA facilities often serve as the crux for elderly Veterans’ community…Veterans have put their lives on the line to protect this country. They deserve consistent, accessible, quality care when they return. That’s the promise we made to these brave men and women when they took their oath to serve, and that’s the promise we intend to keep,” the senators continued.

Rounds and Manchin were joined by Senators Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), John Thune (R-S.D.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Background on the AIR Commission:

  • In 2018, Congress passed the Asset and Infrastructure Review Act as part of the VA MISSION Act.
  • Rounds voted against the VA MISSION Act.
  • In 2019, Rounds and Manchin introduced legislation which would have eliminated the AIR Commission.
  • The VA MISSION Act established a new process for the development, review, approval and implementation of a list of recommendations for the modernization and realignment of VHA medical facilities. The VA MISSION Act requires the VA Secretary to develop an initial list of recommendations, including the acquisition of new space, the modernization of existing space and the disposal of unneeded space. The Secretary was required to publish these recommendations in the Federal Register by January 31, 2022.
  • The VA MISSION Act also established an AIR Commission, a panel comprised of nine members nominated by the president and approved by the Senate, which is meant to review the recommendations submitted by the VA Secretary.
  • However, the panel does not yet exist as all of the nominees have yet to be submitted to the Senate for consideration and approval.
  • Once it is stood up and receives the department’s recommendations, the Commission will conduct its own hearings and investigations, make its own recommendations and send the recommendations to the White House.
  • The AIR Commission is required to submit a final list of recommendations to the president by January 31, 2023.
  • The President is to notify the Commission and Congress if he approves or disapproves the list by February 15, 2023. If disapproved, the Commission may revise the recommendations and submit a new list by March 15, 2023.
  • The President has until March 30, 2023, to approve the Commission’s initial or revised recommendations in their entirety and submit them to Congress, or the modernization and realignment process terminates.
  • If the President approves the recommendations, Congress has 45 days from the date of approval to terminate the process by enacting a joint resolution of disapproval. If Congress does not enact a joint resolution of disapproval, the VA is required to implement the recommendations.

The full letter is available below or click:  HERE.


Dear President Biden:

We write to you today expressing our extreme concern with the VA’s recommendations to the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission, as prescribed in Subtitle A of Title II of the VA MISSION Act. The recommendations are overly focused on quantitative data that does not do enough to consider the impact the proposed changes would have on our Veterans, particularly elderly Veterans. We request that when you receive the final recommendations from the AIR Commission you consult our offices on a state-by-state basis for our feedback before you decide to approve or deny them.

For many elderly Veterans, VA facilities are the only place they seek care. The reasons Veterans often cite are that they are better understood, respected, and cared for at their local VA Medical Center (VAMC). VA facilities often serve as the crux for elderly Veterans’ community. Time and time again, we have been told by elderly Veterans that they enjoy visiting their VAMCs. They build networks of friends and VA staff that serve as support groups and keep them connected with their service. In an increasingly digital world, we cannot discount the importance of the human interaction and connection our Veterans find at VA facilities, particularly with in-person services.

We have been disappointed and concerned by the VA’s lack of assessment of qualitative data and how its recommendations will specifically impact elderly Veterans. Receiving feedback from Congress, local VA staff, and most importantly local Veteran communities must be a crucial step in your assessment of the AIR Commission’s final recommendations. Veterans have put their lives on the line to protect this country. They deserve consistent, accessible, quality care when they return. That’s the promise we made to these brave men and women when they took their oath to serve, and that’s the promise we intend to keep.

We look forward to collaborating with you further on how we can maintain quality care for Veterans across the nation without cutting services or access in our states.

Sincerely,

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