CHILLICOTHE, Ohio — The clock is about to start ticking on a process that could change the face of veteran health care facilities and close some medical center doors.
For years, veterans have provided feedback on their care at VA facilities across the country. The VA Mission Act of 2018 was signed into law by President Donald Trump to provide better care and oversight for our nation’s veterans. Now one portion of that law is about to take a step forward.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will release a report March 14 that contains recommendations to "realign and modernize VA health care facilities" to better serve veterans’ health care needs.
The Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) report is expected to include a range of recommendations from realignments and expansions of community-based medical treatment facilities to possible medical center closures. Chillicothe VA Medical Center could be one of the facilities on the chopping block.
“We know veterans prefer to get their care at VA, and my office has heard directly from veterans in Southeast Ohio who want to continue receiving care at Chillicothe VAMC,” Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said. "I have grave concerns about any recommendations that would make it more difficult for Ohio veterans to receive timely access to VA care at their local VA facility."
A spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) said he "has yet to see the VA's full market assessment and reasoning for the recommendations and has many outstanding questions regarding the impact on veteran care in Southern Ohio.”
When WCPO spoke to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine Wednesday, he said he wasn’t aware of the recommendations in the unreleased report.
“I think the question would be if that's true, and if they're talking about closing Chillicothe...what do they replace it with?” DeWine said.
DeWine's concern for any proposed changes in the future center around veteran access to care.
“That's always the question. You know, you can have great service, but if it's a long, long ways away, it doesn't work very well,” DeWine said.
Any recommendations will be looked at by the AIR Commission, which will hold public hearings on the recommendations. The final recommendations will eventually make their way to the president’s desk who will determine if the recommendations should be sent to Congress for action.
The VA’s website says "Congress can then accept those recommendations as a whole by inaction or reject those recommendations as a whole by passing a joint resolution of disapproval. If the recommendations are approved, VA must begin implementing them within three years."
Wenstrup’s office said he will be monitoring the situation closely and "engaging in this process to ensure that veterans in Southern Ohio receive the care they need and deserve.”
Brown said he plans to hold roundtable discussions throughout the state after the report comes out to hear from those who rely on the VA medical system for treatment.
“I intend to make sure VA knows what the facility means to veterans and their families, and what it means to the hardworking VA employees and the community,” he said. “(I) will use that feedback to raise questions directly to the Asset and Infrastructure Review Commissioners during any hearings.”
WCPO reached out to Diane Garber-Cardwell, Chillicothe VA facility planner for comment, but did not receive comment by the time of this report.
The VA will release the full AIR Report March 14 on its website.
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