Senators spike a plan to close VA facilities, displace workers

Congress created the AIR Commission in the President Trump-signed 2018 Mission Act to identify which facilities in VA’s network were underutilized and should be closed, as well as areas where the department should grow its reach.

Congress created the AIR Commission in the President Trump-signed 2018 Mission Act to identify which facilities in VA’s network were underutilized and should be closed, as well as areas where the department should grow its reach. Ben Hasty/Getty Images

The bipartisan group won't allow votes on nominees to serve on a controversial commission.

A bipartisan group of senators announced this week they would not support the slate of nominees nominated to serve on the statutorily created commission to overhaul the Veteran Affairs Department’s physical footprint, effectively killing a years-long effort to close some of the agency’s medical facilities and potentially open new ones. 

Six Democrats and four Republicans, including Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mt., who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said the process for the VA Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission was broken and therefore they would not allow the nominees to proceed. Congress created the AIR Commission in the President Trump-signed 2018 Mission Act to identify which facilities in VA’s network were underutilized and should be closed, as well as areas where the department should grow its reach. While VA has worked for years to gather data and estimates on current and future usage and has released a detailed list with thousands of recommendations, the senators said their announcement “signifies the end of the AIR Commission.” 

“As senators, we share a commitment to expanding and strengthening modern VA infrastructure in a way that upholds our obligations to America’s veterans,” the group said in a joint statement. "We believe the recommendations put forth to the AIR Commission are not reflective of that goal, and 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.”

In its recommendations to the not-yet-formed commission earlier this year, VA proposed closing more than 30 medical centers and shuttering 172, or about 21%, of its more than 800 outpatient clinics. It suggested partly offsetting those closures by building new hospitals, increasing its medical speciality clinics by 56% and boosting reliance on private sector providers. The administration was months late in nominating the commission members and Senate Republicans only just put forward the name for the ninth nominee last week. VA also missed its deadline to submit its recommendations and released them six weeks late. 

If it had been stood up, the commission would have reviewed that plan, conducted its own hearings and investigations, made its own proposals and sent them to the White House by early 2023. President Biden could then have rejected the plan or signed off on it and sent it to Congress. Similar to previous Base Realignment and Closure efforts at the Defense Department, Congress would have had to accept all of the recommendations or none of them. Lawmakers would have to proactively vote down the proposals to void them, however, as inaction would have allowed them to take effect.

The recommendations drew criticisms from lawmakers in both parties and a wide swath of stakeholders, who said VA was relying too heavily on the private sector, not considering the needs of veterans in remote areas and using pre-pandemic data that was no longer relevant. VA Secretary Denis McDonough had said he hoped the commission would review his team’s work and make changes, and vowed to provide updated data that reflected changes to veterans’ needs in the post-COVID-19 world. 

VA employees in particular voiced opposition to the recommendations, saying the plan would force them out of work and have significant consequences for their patients. VA would displace or relocate more than 50,000 jobs under its proposals, according to an estimate by the American Federation of Government Employees. The union represents most VA workers and has held rallies and lobbied against the department’s proposals since they were released. The department countered that after it built new facilities and added other services, it would come out with a net of more staff. AFGE President Everett Kelley said the announcement from the senators was a “major victory for veterans” and VA employees. 

“This closure commission was a bad idea from the start,” Kelley said. “Automatic, mass closures of VA facilities would deny veterans the comprehensive, quality care that our nation owes to those who have defended our country.”

Advocates for the commission have said it would have allowed VA to refocus its resources where they are actually needed and helped replace aging buildings that can no longer serve the requirements of modern medicine. Veterans’ locations and needs have shifted in the decades since many of VA’s facilities were first built, proponents of change have said, and the commission would have provided an avenue for VA to build new facilities or replace dilapidated ones. Congress is on the verge of passing a bill that would give the department $1 billion to procure 31 leases for new medical facilities, but some stakeholders have called for far greater investments. 

The senators pledged to continue fighting for more VA resources and said the commission is no longer necessary to achieve its goals. When something like the AIR Commission was first floated, a debate over the long-term role of government health care facilities was much more active. While the role of the private sector in veteran care has expanded, calls for large-scale privatization have largely ebbed and VA’s budget has continued to soar to unprecedented highs. 

“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,” the senators said, “now and into the future.” 

This article was published first on GovExec, a FederalSoup partner site "Senators Spike a Plan to Close Hundreds of VA Facilities and Displace Thousands of Workers.") 

NEXT STORY: Agencies are responding to the Supreme Court's Abortion Ruling. Here's how.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.