Our veterans deserve the best medical care that we can provide. That is one principle we can all agree on, even in these challenging times. But recent actions by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have put that principle into question, and that action has not gone unnoticed by the many constituents I have heard from on this issue, or by me.
In March, the VA released its initial Asset Infrastructure Review (AIR) recommendations, which were required as part of the 2018 VA MISSION Act. The intention of the AIR recommendations was to address the aging infrastructure of the VA’s medical facilities; however, the recommendations proposed by the VA essentially eliminate crucial medical services offered at three of our state’s four VA medical centers. The three that will be impacted the most are the Clarksburg, Beckley, and Huntington VAMCs. If these recommendations are approved, veterans who currently receive care at these facilities will have to go to an outside provider for inpatient medical and surgical services.
Currently, our nation is facing a nursing shortage, which has hit rural healthcare systems particularly hard. It is already difficult enough for individuals to set doctor’s appointments, but these wait times in the community will only be exacerbated if certain medical services are cut at VAMCs.
While there are some veterans that wish to receive care in the community — and the VA MISSION Act allows for that — there are many who want the option to continue to receive care at their VAMC. Many of the veterans who are contacting my office are not doing so solely because of the medical care that they receive, but rather because of the sense of community they feel at the VA.
By receiving care at the VA, veterans are around others who understand what they have gone through and it provides them with an outlet to speak freely about their service without fear of being misunderstood. When determining the recommendations, the VA only viewed this from a business standpoint and did not consider the human impact. I fear that by dismantling this sense of community that brings many veterans to the VA, it may worsen the mental health crisis that veterans face because many will no longer have the VA as an outlet to be around others who understand their perspective.
I am hearing from many constituents who are concerned that these recommendations are final, but please know, this process is only beginning and I intend to use my voice throughout. The commissioners that will be need to be confirmed by Congress will be tasked with reviewing these recommendations. They will have until early 2023 to review all of the recommendations and hold public meetings to hear the concerns of those that these recommendations will impact.
I have already joined a bipartisan group of senators in demanding that President Biden ensures that before he signs the final recommendations into law, he consults with our offices on a state-by-state basis so we can share the feedback that we are receiving directly from our constituents.
Make no mistake, our facilities need improvements, but these recommendations are not improvements. In the meantime, I will remain vocal and continue to work with my colleagues to halt the drastic recommendations that have been proposed. The VA needs to recognize that cutting care for our veterans is never the answer.