|Is Your VA Next?
An Essay, Compilation of Research, and What YOU Can Do To Save YOUR VA.
In 2003, the Department of Veterans Affairs commissioned a group of experts to review the VA's infrastructure and make recommendations for the future of veteran healthcare around the nation based on their findings.
The Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) Commission introduced several proposals to tackle issues such as eliminating unused facilities, building new hospitals where the demand was needed, and redirecting resources to meet the needs of veterans instead of on wasteful government spending.
In 2004, after the CARES Commission submitted their final recommendations to the Department of Veterans Affairs, then-Secretary of VA Anthony Principi announced the VA's plans to close and scale back multiple veteran healthcare facilities around the country in what USA Today deemed "the biggest reorganization of the veterans health system ever." The plan would be to reduce VA Hospital care and increase outpatient clinic care while simultaneously arranging contracts with area hospitals to handle VA workload.
At face value, the report seemed ideal. Cutting back on government excesses, making healthcare more accessible to veterans in rural areas and making the system overall more efficient seemed like a plan the rest of America could get behind. Except that digging deeper, the VA was receiving strong and direct opposition in nearly every area they proposed to reduce their presence. And not just from local veterans who used the facilities, but veteran organizations like the American Legion, the VFW and the Vietnam Veterans of America and the respective Congressional representatives for the regions affected by proposed closures.
Testimony before both the House and Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs regarding the CARES plan in both 2004 and 2009 as well as local news articles reveal a striking picture of small town America up against a steamroller driven by Veterans Affairs. Leaders of veterans groups told VA leadership that local administrators met with them "once or twice, to say they met with us," but refused to answer specific questions about the proposed closures, citing incomplete plans. But when pressed further, local VA officials told veterans that now there was a schedule to keep and plans to close the facilities couldn't be altered. Veterans testified to feeling "left out" of talks and community leaders spoke of lost tax revenue hurting their communities. Worst of all, after the VA proceeding with closing or reducing several facilities, veterans found it more costly to them or more difficult to obtain high quality healthcare as the VA often reneged on their contracts with local facilities, forcing veterans to travel further to get any VA care.
In 2012, the Inspector General of Veteran's Affairs took a closer look at one facility in Brecksville, Ohio, that was closed as a result of the CARES Commission, releasing a report finding that the closure was in fact more costly to taxpayers, was detrimental to the veterans, staff and community, and was not in the VA's best interests. The story at Brecksville was eerily similar to the events surrounding many other of the VAs targeted by the CARES Commission, including our own in Hot Springs, South Dakota.
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR ME?
As an American citizen, whose rights are protected by our Constitution and defended by our military, you should be concerned about the VA's future plans for veteran healthcare. Men and women in uniform are promised a high standard of care based on their service-related disabilities as well as a guarantee of benefits for putting their lives on the line for their country.
As a taxpayer, you should also be concerned about a blatant disregard for your money. The Department of Veterans Affairs is already under heat for wasteful spending on excessive staff conferences and yet at the same time VA talks of needing cutbacks in the amount they spend on actual care. The VA needs to be pressured into studying the process and criteria by which they set for making closure decisions.
In Hot Springs, we have had the fortune of our VA campus being a National Historic Landmark, with strict regulation over its protection and preservation. Other VAs do not have that benefit but should receive the same level of scrutiny. Assumptions by VA leadership about the age of buildings or feasibility of renovation are often false or at best misleading. Statistics and figures provided to show a decreasing workload may actually be disingenuous: a VA not offering a service and forcing a veteran to go to a private facility does not mean the need is not there, it means the VA is gaming the system to push a political privatization agendas.
Write your Congressional representatives, and ask them what they have done to protect veterans and invite them to join the Save the VA movement. Tell them to hold VA leadership accountable for their costly and harmful actions. When a VA closes, everyone is affected, from the small businesses who rely on visiting veterans and their families to staff members who are forced to find another job or relocate in an already harsh economy to the veterans who desperately depend on the VA for their care. Their VA... YOUR VA... could be next. They fought for you, don't be afraid to stand up and fight for them.
Following are several Veterans Affairs Reports and media articles related to CARES and other VA closures between 2003-2012.
2003 Walla Walla, WA & American Lake, WA Closures
2004 USA Today Article: "VA To Reorganize Hospital System"
2004 USA Today: List of VA Planned Changes
2004 CARES Final Report, Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs
2004 Hot Springs, SD VA "Not on Hit List"
2005 Knoxville, IA VA Closure
2009 CARES Assessment, House Committee on Veterans Affairs
2011 Fight For Montrose VA Continues, Montrose, NY
2011 Brecksville, OH VA Closure
2012 Erie, PA VA Service Reductions
2012 Warsaw, NY Closure (Begins Page 4 of PDF)
2012 Kerrville, TX Service Reductions
2012 Office of VA Inspector General Report on Brecksville, OH Closure
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