Resort facilities

Sen. Joe Manchin says commission to cut veterans’ facilities must be dismantled

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A group of U.S. senators has agreed to effectively dismantle a commission tasked by the Department of Veterans Affairs with making closures, downsizing and other major changes to medical facilities nationwide, Sen. Joe Manchin said Monday.

The West Virginia Democrat, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said there is bipartisan support to avoid filling vacancies on the VA’s Assets and Infrastructure Review Board and to put end to the commission in the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act.

The commission had recommended the closure or downsizing of several older facilities, a proposal that Manchin said would significantly alter the services provided to rural veterans across the country. But other groups had praised the commission’s work, saying there was a need to modernize and improve the VA’s health care offerings.

Manchin said in a statement that without Senate approval of the AIR Commission and its nominees, no commission will be established and the process outlined by the VA Mission Act of 2018 “will not move forward.” The law required Veterans Affairs to make recommendations for its medical facilities and the delivery of health care, either through expansion of facilities, relocations, closures or changes in services.

For example, the recommendations would have reduced the size of three of four VA medical centers in West Virginia and closed four community outpatient clinics in New Mexico.

The group of senators said in the statement that the VA’s recommendations given to the commission do not reflect the fulfillment of the nation’s obligations to its veterans.

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The recommendations would disadvantage veterans “in both rural and urban areas, which is why we announce that this process does not have our support and will not proceed,” the statement said. “The Commission is not needed for our continued efforts to invest in VA health infrastructure, and together we remain committed to providing the Department with the resources and tools it needs to continue providing quality care and deserved service to veterans in 21st century facilities – now and in the future.”

Joining Manchin in the letter were Democratic Sens. Jon Tester of Montana, Martin Henrich and Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Patty Murray of Washington, and Republicans Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Mike Rounds and John Thune of South Dakota, Rob Portman of Ohio and Steve Daines of Montana.

The group Concerned Veterans for America said the senators’ decision would only hurt veterans.

“To say this is disappointing is an understatement,” the group’s senior adviser, Darin Selnick, said in a statement. “Put simply, this decision is short-sighted and will hurt veterans by keeping them trapped in a flawed and outdated system that is not designed to meet 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.

The VA issued preliminary recommendations in March, prompting a bipartisan group of senators led by Manchin to initially ask President Joe Biden to ensure rural perspectives were considered by the AIR Commission.