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(Washington DC) – An announcement Monday by a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators states they will block the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission recommendations, claiming the process is “flawed.”
This move would prevent the closure of the Chillicothe Veterans Affairs Medical Center, along with other V.A. sites recommended for closure across the nation.
Senator Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat and chairman of the veterans committee, said the slow pace of the work thus far coupled with the controversial recommendations put out by VA leaders earlier this year have made the process unworkable.
A joint statement was issued from the group of senators- “As senators, we share a commitment to expanding and strengthening modern VA infrastructure in a way that upholds our obligations to America’s veterans. We believe the recommendations put forth to the AIR Commission are not reflective of that goal, and would put veterans in both rural and urban areas at a disadvantage,” the group said in a statement.
“That is why we are announcing that this process does not have our support and will not move forward. The commission is not necessary for our continued push to invest in VA health infrastructure.”
The group includes Senators. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.; Mike Rounds, R-S.D.; and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. Those four last month introduced legislation to completely eliminate the commission, saying the recommendations offered by VA leaders were too flawed to try and salvage.
Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia also spelled doom for the AIR Commission. “We have democrats and republicans rising up and saying ‘it’s over.’ We’re not going to confirm anybody (for the AIR Commission) and we’re going to kill it.”
In addition to those senators, seven more senators also signed on to the new pledge to block the commission: Maggie Hassan, D-N.H.; John Thune, R-S.D.; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Patty Murray, D-Wash.; Steve Daines, R-Mont.; Rob Portman, R-Ohio; and Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M.
35 Veterans Affairs Medical Centers in 21 different states would be closed or completely reconstructed under the nearly $2 trillion infrastructure overhaul. Fourteen new major VA hospitals would be built along with 140 multi-specialty community-based outpatient clinics.
The plan in total would add 80 new medical buildings to the department’s existing inventory of more than 1,200 across the country. Officials from rural areas said the recommendations cut off services for too many veterans not living close to major U.S. cities. Staff in hospitals in New York and Ohio scheduled for eventual closure held rallies to protest the decisions.