(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – A directive from the Bush Administration’s Department of Veterans Affairs ordered the regional VA leadership in Seattle to pursue the potential closure of three Washington state VA hospitals. The facilities targeted for closure by the Bush Administration are located in American Lake, Vancouver and Walla Walla.
The stunning directive came as the Veterans Integrated Services Network (VISN) 20, which oversees regional veterans’ facilities in Washington state, had submitted a set of recommendations about VA facilities in the state. The report, sent to VA headquarters in Washington, D.C., noted a growing veteran's population and increased demands for primary and specialty care in Washington state.
In response, the Department of Veterans' Affairs quietly directed VISN 20 to rewrite their submission to headquarters, with closure options for the three Washington state facilities.
Senator Murray, who serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, learned of the VA directive to VISN 20 this afternoon. "I am shocked and angered that despite a growing veterans population and increasing need for healthcare services, VA headquarters is advocating the closure of veterans healthcare facilities in Washington state," Senator Murray said. "I will fight this stealth effort to deny care to thousands of Washington veterans including those with serious specialty care needs."
Under a VA initiative called CARES (Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services), VA facilities were tasked with developing recommendations based on a thorough review of population data, market analyses of veterans' health care needs, the identification of planning initiatives for each market area, and most important, the significant involvement of stakeholders. Following the criteria and process set forth by VA, facilities made their recommendations to the VA Under Secretary for Health.
Washington state is home to 700,000 veterans and military retirees, an increasing number of whom rely upon the VA for their healthcare needs.
"The recommendations from Washington state veterans and the Regional VA have been ignored in Washington, D.C.," Senator Murray said. "We’ve identified major shortfalls in delivering health services to Washington’s veterans. The VA’s response appears to be a massive retreat from health care delivery to veterans in Washington state."
Read the VISN 20’s report to the VA
The text of the letter follows:
July 24, 2003
The Honorable Anthony J. Principi
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary Principi,
I write with serious concerns regarding the CARES initiative. I have read and reviewed the Veterans Integrated Services Network (VISN) 20 facilities recommendations to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VISN 20 submission details a growing veterans population as well as significant requirements for specialized care throughout the State of Washington.
As a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I have learned that instructions were given to the VISN 20 leadership to resubmit their facilities recommendations with plans to potentially close VA facilities at American Lake, Vancouver and Walla Walla. This mandate from the VA will restrict and deny healthcare access to thousands of Washington veterans including those with specialty care needs like mental health, blind rehabilitation services, and treatment for spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries.
According to the CARES Guidebook, VA facilities were tasked with developing recommendations based on a thorough review of population data; the conduct of market analyses of veterans health care needs; the identification of planning initiatives for each market area; and most important, the significant involvement of stakeholders. Following the criteria and process set forth by VA, facilities made their recommendations to the Under Secretary for Health.
A review of the VISN 20 facilities recommendation now available on the VA web site underscores that the region forecasts significant growth in the veterans population. Where the veterans population has declined, VISN 20 proposes changes at one location to meet the needs of the local veterans population. The VISN 20 submission also highlights significant gaps in both primary and specialty care for Washington veterans.
It is outrageous that mandates would be given to VISN 20 to potentially close three Washington facilities. This action completely disregards VISN 20 recommendations for health care delivery to my state’s veteran population.
Mr. Secretary, I urge you to immediately withdraw the mandate to VISN 20 to take steps to potentially close veterans healthcare facilities at American Lake, Vancouver and Walla Walla. I await your prompt reply on this urgent matter to veterans all across Washington state.
United States Senator