Congress Must Not Rush to Close VA Facilities

The Veterans Healthcare Policy Institute submitted the following Statement for the Record to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in advance of the Full Committee Legislative Hearing on Thursday, June 20. The statement in regards to H.R. 3083, The Air Acceleration Act is below:

Chairman Takano, Ranking Member Roe, and Members of the Committee:

The Veterans Healthcare Policy Institute (VHPI) would like to thank you for the opportunity to submit a statement on the record regarding H.R. 3083, The AIR Acceleration Act. We appreciate your bipartisan recognition that all Americans deserve to know their tax dollars are being used efficiently to ensure the highest quality and availability of veterans’ health care.

We strongly urge caution when reviewing The AIR Acceleration Act (H.R. 3083), which would accelerate the timeline for the Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission. As we document in this analysis, there are harmful secondary consequences of a Veterans Health Administration (VA) facility closure that must be very thoroughly studied. Closure will likely increase overall costs and divert critical funds away from the national VA healthcare system. Beyond costs, shuttering any VA facility will erode the care of veterans, reduce the availability of clinicians with veteran-specific expertise, decimate healthcare education/research, harm local economies and diminish emergency preparedness.   

Pub.L. 115-182, The VA MISSION Act of 2018, Sec. 202 established an Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission to evaluate all VA facilities’ utilization patterns and infrastructure needs, and recommend whether to close, replace, expand or repurpose them. Congress will have no authority to alter the final set of the Commission’s recommendations. Instead, Congress may only approve or disapprove of the recommendations in their entirety, within a tight time frame. Because there will be no ability to walk back the Commission’s proposals, it is critical that Commissioners and Members of Congress be thoroughly aware of the far-reaching repercussions of any recommended closures.

This document analyzes the severe economic, healthcare, training, and research consequences of a VA facility closure. As the nation debates the future of its largest and only publicly-funded, fully integrated healthcare system, it is critical to understand the vital role these medical centers play in their communities and the breadth and depth of the services they deliver to veterans.

Following is a summary of the major adverse consequences that closing a VA facility will:

  1. Increase overall costs and drain funds from remaining VA facilities, ultimately eroding the availability of care throughout the system,

  2. Diminish veterans’ access to veteran-specific, high quality, comprehensive and integrated care in their community, 

  3. Increase wait times for veterans and non-veterans at non-VA facilities, 

  4. Eliminate veterans’ choice if they prefer to receive their care in the VA,

  5. Decimate residency and fellowship training programs at the affiliated medical and health professional schools,

  6. Diminish the number of graduates who enter the local network of healthcare providers to treat veterans and the non-veteran public,

  7. Impede efforts to recruit providers at other VA facilities, 

  8. Reduce VA research projects that benefits veteran rehabilitation and health care for all Americans,

  9. Hamper local governments’ ability to respond to national emergencies and natural disasters.

  10. Layoff employees, which would significantly impact the local economy. (Veterans make up a third of VA employees and many will find it difficult to secure employment).  

Read the full analysis submitted with the VHPI Statement for the Record at this link or download the full statement as a PDF.

Brett Copeland