Tuesday, March 15, 2022

VA Medical Centers To Close Or Rebuilt Under New Infrastructure Plan

The Chillicothe Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Ohio, is One of 17 recommended for Closure under a New Department Infrastructure Plan released Monday.

Thirty-Five Veterans Affairs Medical Centers, in 21 different States, would be Closed or completely Reconstructed, under a nearly $2 trillion Infrastructure Overhaul unveiled by Department Leadership on Monday. In addition, 14 New major VA Hospitals would be Built along with 140 multi-specialty community-based Outpatient Clinics. The Plan in total would add 80 New Medical Buildings to the Department’s existing Inventory of more than 1,200 across the Country.

The Proposals represent a massive Restructuring of VA’s footprint in America in coming years, and could impact Millions of Veterans seeking Medical Care and Hundreds of Thousands of VA Employees. But, the Plan must also get Approval from both an Independent Commission of Veterans Advocates and Congress before moving ahead, leaving any potential Changes years away. Department Leaders are expected to announce the Names of the New Asset and Infrastructure Review Commissioners later this month.

Last week, ahead of the Plan’s release, VA Secretary Denis McDonough, touted the Changes as a critical rethinking of where VA Facilities are located, and how the Department delivers care to Veterans. “We will be shifting toward new infrastructure or different infrastructure that accounts for how healthcare has changed, matches the needs of that market, and strengthens our research and education missions,” he said. “Most of all, we’ll ensure that veterans who live in [any] location have access to the world-class care they need when they need it.”

Congress Mandated a Reassessment of VA’s Nationwide Infrastructure in 2018, as part of a Review styled after the Military Base Closing rounds of the 1980s and 1990s.

Recommended for Closure include:

- Three sites in New York State: Castle Point, Manhattan and Brooklyn
- Two sites in Pennsylvania: Philadelphia and Coastesville
- Two sites in Virginia: Hampton and Salem
- Two sites in South Dakota: Fort Meade and Hot Springs
- The Central Western Massachusetts VAMC
- The Dublin VAMC in Georgia
- The Chillicothe VAMC in Ohio
- The Fort Wayne VAMC in Indiana
- The Battle Creek VAMC in Michigan
- The Alexandria VAMC in Louisiana
- The Muskogee VAMC in Oklahoma
- The Palo Alto Livermore VAMC in California

Seven of the 17 Sites recommended for Closing are located in the Northeast, where the number of Veterans, and the Overall Population, has Declined in recent Decades. Services at those Sites would be Replaced by Smaller Inpatient and Outpatient Clinics to be built in those areas, or by Construction of New VA Medical Centers in nearby Communities.

The Plan calls for Construction of New Major Medical Sites:

- Virginia: Newport News and Norfolk
- Georgia: Macon and Gwinnett County
- New Jersey Facility in Camden, to offset the Loss of some of the New York Sites

The New Construction List includes:

- Medical Center in King of Prussia, PA
- Medical Center in Huntsville, AL
- Medical Center in Summerville, SC
- Medical Center in Grand Rapids, MI
- Medical Center in Colorado Springs, CO
- Medical Center in Everett, WA
- Medical Center in Anthem, AZ
- Medical Center in Rapid City, SD

A Total of 18 Medical Centers would be Rebuilt, either on their existing Land or at a nearby New Location:

- Three New York State Centers: Albany, Buffalo, and St. Albans
- Major Metropolitan Areas: Atlanta, Indianapolis, Miami, Phoenix, San Antonio, and Washington, D.C.

Other Replacement Sites include:

- Bedford VAMC in Massachusetts
- Wilkes-Barre VAMC in Pennsylvania
- Beckley VAMC in West Virginia
- Roanoke VAMC in Virginia
- Durham VAMC in North Carolina
- Tuskegee VAMC in Alabama
- Hines VAMC in Illinois
- Shreveport VAMC in Louisiana
- Reno VAMC in Nevada

McDonough has said, in recent weeks, that the Plan will not displace any VA Workers or Patients in the short-term, and that efforts will be made to Minimize Disruptions over the long-term. The Plan also calls for numerous Improvements to VA Staff Pay and Benefits as a way to strengthen Retention efforts, thereby Improving Care throughout the system.

VA Officials said the Full Recommendations would cost about $98 billion more over the next 30 years, than simply maintaining the Department’s current Infrastructure, and about $41 billion more than Modernization efforts Projected to be needed over that time frame.

Biden calls caring for Burn Pit illnesses a ‘sacred obligation’. In a Speech to Veterans in Texas, Biden continued his push to improve Benefits and Care for those who served alongside Burning Waste Pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. That Cost, and the potential Impact of Losing Major Medical Centers, in Key Community Centers across the Country, will be the focus of Debate for Lawmakers over the next year.

The Independent AIR Commission will conduct Public Hearings in coming months, as part of its Review of VA’s Recommendations, and will submit its own Recommendations to the President for further Review in early 2023. Whether the White House and Congress will ultimately accept those Plans remains to be seen.

On Monday, Lawmakers offered their initial Reactions to the Plans but promised closer Scrutiny in the months to come. “For far too long, VA’s infrastructure has been slowly crumbling. Veterans in every corner of the country deserve better,” Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL, 12th District), Ranking Member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said in a Statement. “There are many milestones and hard decisions ahead but retaining the status quo is not an option.”

In a preview of Fights to come, Rep. Chris Pappas (D-NH, 1st District), said Officials would “jeopardize our veterans’ access to care” with Plans to Close Three Community-Based Outpatient Clinics in his State. And Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT), also took a more Confrontational tone in his early assessment without offering any specific Criticism. “Any effort to kneecap our veterans’ health care is a non-starter for me,” he said. “I will fight tooth and nail against any proposals that blindly look to reduce access to VA care or put our veterans at a disadvantage.”

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

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