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Government

Veterans Ask Questions About Potential VA Health System Changes

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Veterans from the Mason County VFW Post 9926 listen to Sen. Joe Manchin and Ted Diaz, the secretary for the West Virginia Department of Veterans Assistance discuss potential changes to the VA health system.

A group of West Virginia veterans came together to discuss their concerns about proposed changes to the VA health system.

Sen. Joe Manchin organized the listening session and included Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and Ted Diaz, the cabinet secretary for the West Virginia Department of Veterans Assistance as well.

In March, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released recommendations from the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission. Those recommendations included downsizing three of the four VA hospitals in West Virginia. That would force veterans to travel longer distances or send them to private hospitals for care.

In response to a question from Todd Morris from Montgomery, Diaz said the private sector isn’t ready.

“The West Virginia health care system is not ready to have 72,000 veterans that are receiving VA health care in the state right now,” he said.

Manchin said he thought the VA’s recommendations were “deeply flawed.”

“The VA’s recommendations to the AIR Commission are skewed against rural states like West Virginia, which would see a reduction in services at three of our four VAMCs, forcing our brave veterans to travel farther for the same care they’ve received close to home for years,” Manchin said. “I will continue fighting tooth and nail to prevent the loss of a single VA service or facility in West Virginia, which is why I reintroduced the bipartisan Elimination of the VA Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission Act yesterday to dissolve the commission and ensure our Veterans continue to receive the care they earned and deserve.”

Diaz said he received a briefing about the AIR recommendations when they were released.

“At that time, I recognized the recommendations for what they were, a reduction in services, a reduction in access to healthcare, a reduction in access to Mental Healthcare for our Veteran population in West Virginia,” he said. “Since then, I have been working closely with the governor’s office, our state legislature, Senators Manchin and Capito, and our congressional delegation to bring awareness throughout the state, making sure our veterans are aware of the impact these recommendations will have should they come to fruition. We are united in saying that the AIR Commission must be eliminated now.”

Under the current timeline, after public hearings, the VA will submit final recommendations to President Joe Biden by January 31, 2023.

Background on the AIR Commission:

  • In 2018, Congress passed the Asset and Infrastructure Review Act as part of the VA MISSION Act.
  • Senators Rounds and Manchin introduced legislation in 2019 which would have eliminated the AIR Commission.
  • The VA MISSION Act 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 VA MISSION Act requires the VA Secretary to develop an initial list of recommendations, including the acquisition of new space, the modernization of existing space and the disposal of unneeded space. The Secretary was required to publish these recommendations in the Federal Register by January 31, 2022.
  • The VA MISSION Act also established an AIR Commission, a panel comprised of nine members nominated by the president and approved by the Senate, which is meant to review the recommendations submitted by the VA Secretary.
  • However, the panel does not yet exist as all of the nominees have yet to be assessed by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and voted on by the full Senate.
  • Once it is stood up 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 is to notify the commission and Congress if he approves or disapproves the list by February 15, 2023. If disapproved, 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 terminates.
  • If the president approves the recommendations, Congress has 45 days from the date of approval to terminate the process by enacting a joint resolution of disapproval. If Congress does not enact a joint resolution of disapproval, the VA is required to implement the recommendations.

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