CHILLICOTHE— United States Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown visited the Chillicothe Veterans Medical Center Friday morning alongside US Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough.
The trio visited the medical center to meet with facility management, frontline staff, union representative and local community veteran representatives and learn about the impact of national level decisions on operations and local VA services.
It was Portman’s first visit to Chillicothe to visit the medical center. He said he did not support the recommendations to the CVAMC and said creating a new facility “doesn’t make sense to me”, due to the potential for job loss. He said some people already drive an hour to get to the Chillicothe facility, so its closure could force veterans to drive twice as far.
“It’s just the wrong thing to do for our veterans who live in this part of the state that provided so many men and women who were willing to put their lives on the line for all of us, and c t’s a heavy country rural area,” Portman (R-Ohio) said. “Our hope is that this visit today will only reinforce the feeling that I hope we all have, that people here are doing a great job and that veterans deserve the incredible care they receive here.”
He said he saw a man holding a sign near the VA this morning that read, “I’m clean and sober thanks to this VA.” Portman said the medical center is critical to addressing addiction and mental health issues in Ross County.
McDonough said the goal of the recommendations is to maintain access to health care across the United States. He said the recommendations include the establishment of a community-based multi-specialty outpatient clinic (MS CBOC) near Chillicothe, which would retain many services since many procedures that previously required inpatient care can now be performed as than outpatient procedures due to advances in technology.
“[The recommendations] is considering a new facility with a range of services that reflects the current health care situation in the country,” McDonough said. “In any case, we will stay here and maintain the fundamental integrated health care provided by the VA , leveraging a network of capabilities that includes private network providers, CBOC clinics, and other Ohio providers.
Brown (D-Ohio) said the data in the VA’s report to the AIR commission is outdated because the information predates the COVID-19 pandemic.
McDonough also said the “whole process” of the VA’s recommendations has stalled because the Assets and Infrastructure Review Board (AIR) has yet to be named.
“This is a process focused on VA’s physical infrastructure,” McDonough said. “At the same time, we are aggressively implementing a human infrastructure project at VA because ultimately the most important thing about VA care is the professionals.”
During the annual State of the Community of Chillicothe address Friday morning, Mayor Luke Feeney said the possible closure of Chillicothe VA poses a threat to the community. He said he would do everything in his power to keep the medical center open in Chillicothe.
“Our veterans deserve the high quality of care they receive at our Chillicothe VA and they deserve it close to home,” Feeney said. “It would be a real tragedy if this facility closed.”
Megan Becker is a reporter for the Chillicothe Gazette. Call her at 740-349-1106, email her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @BeckerReporting