VA wants to close more than 100 medical facilities but build hundreds more

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The Department of Veterans Affairs will recommend the closure of at least three medical centers and 174 outpatient clinics and the construction of approximately 255 new health care facilities and nursing homes to improve medical services for veterans, according to reports. information given by the ministry the week of March 8 and disclosed. planning documents.

The documents, first obtained by Military Times, show the VA will recommend increasing its total number of medical facilities by 78.

But the expansion also includes growing partnerships with private hospitals to provide approved care for veterans without access to a VA medical center.

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Although details of the recommendations have yet to be made public — they are expected to be published March 14 in the Federal Register — VA officials have been on the offensive last week, notifying veterans service organizations, unions and employees recommendations. , part of an ongoing review of VA real estate and infrastructure.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough said Thursday the recommendations would improve overall access and quality of care and were designed to meet “the needs of 21st century veterans, not the needs and challenges of veterans.” in a health system built years ago”.

“[They] will significantly enhance our leading role as America’s health care researchers and as America’s leading health care training institution,” McDonough said at an event with the Rand Epstein Family Veterans Policy Research Institute.

“It’s still an investment and an investment, not a retirement,” McDonough said.

According to the documents.

But they will also recommend the closure of a medical center in the “northeast”, replaced by new community outpatient clinics, a new retirement home and a partnership that places AV providers in a community hospital for inpatient care. so “veterinarians can get care in a modern facility — a quality setting rather than a VA hospital that only serves five or six patients a day,” McDonough said.

The Chillicothe Gazette reported Tuesday that Chillicothe VA Medical Center in Ohio was among those recommended for closure.

McDonough added that the VA will also recommend eliminating some services at Hot Springs VA Medical Center in South Dakota — a move it has been proposing since at least 2015 — but would expand specialty care at the facility.

Among the additions, he said the VA will recommend building a new medical center in the Southwest, where demand is increasing from young veterans, as well as women and minorities.

“Health care has evolved, so VA needs to be overhauled and, in fact, lead the evolution,” McDonough said.

The recommendations are part of an Asset and Infrastructure Review, or AIR, required by Congress in 2018. A commission — several of whose members were appointed by President Joe Biden on Wednesday — will review the VA’s proposals and develop recommendations finals next year. .

The review was compared to the Department of Defense Base Realignment and Closure Process – an audit to determine if facilities and programs are needed in areas to continue to provide value.

McDonough bristled at the comparison Thursday, saying the DoD’s BRAC process was designed to “reduce the DoD’s footprint” while the AIR is meant to ensure the VA remains “in every market in the country.”

“This is a modernization effort to improve the efficiency of our facilities by moving us away from aging and dated facilities,” he said, noting that a tree is growing in one of the clinics in VA and that the VA hospital in Chicago lacks reliable heat. in winter.

The recommendations also call for increasing the number of free-standing nursing homes from two to 29 and residential rehabilitation treatment programs from 10 to 22.

The VA would build 14 additional outpatient health care centers and create 140 additional outpatient clinics that provide specialist care, while reducing the number of community outpatient clinics by 86.

And it would also close 88 other outpatient clinics. However, which clinics will close likely won’t be known until the Federal Register releases an outline of the recommendations, possibly as early as Friday.

Despite the lack of details provided by the VA, unions and lawmakers are already pushing back on the proposals, saying the changes would displace employees and harm communities and care.

National President of the American Federation of Government Employees Everett Kelley said Tuesday that the proposals would force veterans to rely on “uncoordinated, private, for-profit care” where they would suffer long periods of waiting and would not have access to care adapted to the needs of veterans.

“AFGE members, many of whom are veterans themselves, are outraged and strongly opposed to plans to dismantle large segments of the VA’s health care system, including medical centers and hospital facilities. for surgery, emergency medical care, mental health and addiction treatment,” Kelley said in a press release.

And lawmakers are already gearing up to protect facilities in their regions. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., released a statement March 3 calling any cuts to services in his state a “non-starter.”

“I will work to ensure that this multi-year process protects Montana veterans, especially those in rural areas, and ensures timely access to the health care they have earned.”

Sen. John Thune, RS.D., said the VA was “wrong, period” for considering downgrading the Hot Springs VA.

“I’m frustrated and angry,” Thune said in a press release. “This is a huge mistake, and I will do everything in my power to show the administration, working with the Assets and Infrastructure Review Board, why it would be in everyone’s interest, by especially South Dakota veterans, to immediately change course.”

– Patricia Kime can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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