Don’t Cut VA Medical Services for Elderly Veterans

WASHINGTON DC- U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (RW.Va.) and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC) member Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) led a group of twelve bipartisan senators in calling on President Biden to consult with Congress and local stakeholders, state by state, on the potential impacts the Assets and Infrastructure Review Board (AIR) recommendations would have, particularly on older veterans.

“We are writing to you today to express our extreme concern regarding the VA’s recommendations to the Assets and Infrastructure Review Board (AIR), as mandated by Subtitle A of Title II of the Law VA MISSION“, the senators said in part. “The recommendations are too focused on quantitative data that does not sufficiently consider the impact the proposed changes would have on our Veterans, especially older Veterans. We ask that when you receive the AIR Commission’s final recommendations, you consult with our state-by-state offices for our comments before deciding whether to approve or reject them.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released its preliminary recommendations to the AIR commission on Monday, March 14, which would significantly alter the services provided to rural veterans across the United States.

“For many older 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 a focal point for the elderly veteran community…Veterans have put their lives on the line to protect this country. They deserve consistent, accessible and quality care upon their return. This is the promise we made to these brave men and women when they took the oath to serve, and it is the promise we intend to keep. say the senators.

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

Context of the AIR Committee:

  • In 2018, Congress passed the Asset and Infrastructure Review Act as part of the Law VA MISSION.
  • the Law VA MISSION 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 Law VA MISSION requires the VA Secretary to develop an initial list of recommendations, including acquiring new space, upgrading existing space, and eliminating unnecessary space. The Secretary was required to publish these recommendations in the Federal Register by January 31, 2022.
  • the Law VA MISSION also established an AIR committee, a nine-member panel appointed by the president and approved by the Senate, which is supposed to review recommendations submitted by the VA secretary.
  • However, the panel does not yet exist as all nominees have yet to be submitted to the Senate for review and approval.
  • Once it is on its feet 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 must notify the Commission and Congress whether he approves or disapproves of the list by February 15, 2023. If not, 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 ends.
  • If the president approves the recommendations, Congress has 45 days from the date of approval to end the process by passing a joint resolution of disapproval. If Congress does not pass a joint resolution of disapproval, the VA is obligated to implement the recommendations.

The full letter is available below or here.

Dear President Biden:

We are writing to you today to express our extreme concern regarding the recommendations of the VA to the Asset and Infrastructure Review Board (AIR), as mandated by Subtitle A of Title II of the VA MISSION Act. The recommendations are too focused on quantitative data that does not sufficiently consider the impact the proposed changes would have on our Veterans, especially older Veterans. When you receive the AIR Commission’s final recommendations, we ask that you consult with our state-by-state offices for our comments before deciding whether to approve or reject 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 a focal point for the older veteran community. Time and time again, older veterans have told us that they enjoy visiting their VAMC. They create networks of friends and VA staff that serve as support groups and keep them in touch with their service. In an increasingly digital world, we cannot ignore the importance of human interaction and connection that our veterans find at VA facilities, especially with in-person services.

We were disappointed and concerned about the VA’s lack of qualitative evidence assessment and how its recommendations will specifically impact older veterans. Receiving input from Congress, local VA staff, and, most importantly, local veteran communities should be a critical step in your evaluation of the AIR Commission’s final recommendations. Veterans have risked their lives to protect this country. They deserve consistent, accessible and quality care upon their return. This is the promise we made to these brave men and women when they took the oath to serve, and it is the promise we intend to keep.

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

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