Two dozen labor organizations, including the AFGE union that represents many VA employees, have joined in opposition to a bill advancing in the House to create a base closings commission-like process to consolidate or close excess facilities at the VA.
The bill, which has passed the Veterans Affairs Committee, would require the VA to assess its medical facilities, taking into account factors such as access to care, the capacity of the local healthcare market, input from local veterans and stakeholders, and potential costs and savings. Based on those criteria the VA would make recommendations to be reviewed by an 11-member commission which could make changes. Its report in turn would go to the President and on approval would go to Congress, which could stop the plan only by disapproving it within 45 days.
“If HR-4243 becomes law, members of Congress will lose their ability to fight for the interests of veterans and all other constituents in their communities who cherish and depend on their VA medical centers for medical care and a broad array of other services. In addition, VA medical centers provide good jobs for returning veterans and economic stimulus for local businesses,” said a letter sent to all members of Congress.
Underlying their argument is a view that the process will be used to further shift care of veterans away from the VA itself and into the private sector on a reimbursable basis, a trend that already has been underway for some years and that was accelerated by a 2014 law. “Every dollar diverted to private care is one less dollar that the VA desperately needs to retain its capacity to be the primary provider of coordinated care,” it said.