CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Sen. Joe Manchin announced on Monday that a group of U.S. senators had decided to effectively dismantle a commission that had been charged by the Department of Veterans Affairs with imposing closures, downsizing, and other significant changes to medical facilities nationwide.
The Democratic senator from West Virginia who sits on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee claimed that there is bipartisan support to do away with the Assets and Infrastructure Review Commission of the VA and terminate it in the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act.
Manchin was concerned that the commission’s proposal to close or reduce the number of older facilities would drastically affect the services offered to rural veterans countrywide. However, some groups had praised the commission’s work, stating that it was important to update and improve the health care services provided by the VA, as per Apnews Hour.
In a statement, Manchin stated that the 2018 VA Mission Act’s process “will not move forward” if the Senate does not approve the AIR Commission’s nominees and the commission’s establishment. Veterans Affairs was obligated under the law to submit recommendations for changes to its medical facilities and methods of providing healthcare, including facility expansions, relocations, closures, and service changes.
For instance, the recommendations would have resulted in the closure of four community-based outpatient clinics in New Mexico and the downsizing of three of the four VA medical hospitals in West Virginia.
The senators’ group claimed in the statement that the recommendations made to the commission by the VA did not represent upholding the government’s responsibilities to its veterans.
The recommendations would put veterans “in both rural and urban areas at a disadvantage, which is why we are announcing that this process does not have our support and will not move forward,” the statement said. “The Commission is not necessary for our continued push to invest in VA health infrastructure, and together we remain dedicated to providing the Department with the resources and tools it needs to continue delivering quality care and earned services to Veterans in 21st-century facilities—now and into the future.”
Democratic Senators Jon Tester of Montana, Martin Henrich, and Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, Senators Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Senator Patty Murray of Washington joined Manchin in signing the letter. Republican Senators Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Mike Rounds and John Thune of South Dakota, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Senator Steve Daines of Montana also signed it.
Concerned Veterans for America claimed that the senators’ choice would only be harmful to veterans.
“To say this is disappointing is an understatement,” group senior adviser Darin Selnick said in a statement. “Simply put, this decision is short-sighted and will hurt veterans by keeping them trapped in a broken and outdated system not built to address their needs. The AIR commission was the best chance to modernize the VA health care system to meet the needs of the veterans it serves.”
A bipartisan group of senators led by Manchin initially requested President Joe Biden to ensure that rural perspectives were taken into account by the AIR Commission after the VA presented early recommendations in March.