Senators Criticize Proposed Changes To Veterans Affairs Health System
At a Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing Thursday, senators said that they are concerned that proposed changes to the Veterans Affairs Department would deny some veterans access to health services and treatments, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports (Abrams, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 9/11). The proposed changes are part of the VA Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services plan, which seeks to eliminate dated or underused facilities and shift the focus of the VA health system to outpatient care. Under the proposal, the VA would close seven hospitals, open two others and add 48 new clinics. The VA plans to close hospitals in Gulfport, Miss.; Lexington, Ky.; Waco, Texas; Pittsburgh; Canandaigua, N.Y.; Brecksville, Ohio; and Livermore, Calif.; and open facilities in Las Vegas and Orlando. In addition, the VA plans to open centers for the blind in Biloxi, Miss., and Long Beach, Calif., and spinal cord injury units in Denver, Little Rock, Minneapolis and Syracuse or Albany, N.Y. The proposal would cost an estimated $4.6 billion over 20 years. A 15-member commission appointed by VA Secretary Anthony Principi will consider the proposal in a series of hearings nationwide this year and make final recommendations in November. Principi will decide whether to approve the proposal in December (California Healthline, 8/5).
Much like military base closings, lawmakers do not want to see VA facilities in their states or districts closed down, the AP/Sun reports. "There's a great deal of skepticism in the veterans' community," Veterans' Affairs Committee Chair Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said, adding he has "very grave concerns" that new facilities will not be completed before the facility in the Pittsburgh area, which he represents, closes. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) said veterans in Waco are concerned about their access to VA medical care. She added that the draft plan "neither enhances services nor wisely allocates resources." In a statement, Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) said that the overhaul plan "seems to be lurching forward with little or no underpinning," adding that "we must slow down and approach this critical task with much more deliberation." However, Dr. Robert Roswell, the VA undersecretary for health, said, "All care provided to veterans will continue throughout this process." Everett Alvarez, head of the commission that will make recommendations on the draft plan, said that the commission has not made any final decisions and is currently visiting VA facilities nationwide to gather input from veterans and local communities (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 9/11).
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) yesterday introduced a bill (S 1605) that would provide a new Las Vegas-area VA hospital with $250 million for construction, the Las Vegas Sun reports. However, a separate bill would have to be approved to actually put the funds into the project, according to the Sun (Struglinksi, Las Vegas Sun, 9/11). The bill, which is co-sponsored by Graham, also provides $170 million for the proposed Orlando-area hospital and $30 million to bring the VA Medical Center in San Juan, Puerto Rico, into compliance with the CD-54 Natural Disasters Directive (S 1605 text). Reid said that more than 240,000 veterans live in Nevada and that more than 33% of Nevada's senior citizens are veterans. The VA expects 63,000 veterans in Southern Nevada to seek treatment from its facilities by 2012, John Hempel, director of the VA's health care system in Southern Nevada, said, adding that "veterans in Nevada could be ecstatic" if the bill were to pass. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) introduced a similar bill in the House Wednesday (Las Vegas Sun, 9/11).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.