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CARES Commission Agrees with Bush Administration Plan to Close Walla Walla VA Medical Center

Dec 19 2003

Senator strongly opposes plan to close VA center in Walla Walla

(Washington, DC) – Veterans in Walla Walla got bad news this week in their fight to keep the local VA medical center open. Earlier this year, Senator Murray raised objections when the Bush Administration recommended that the Jonathan Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center be closed. Specifically, the Bush plan called for closing impatient beds at Walla Walla and contracting out acute medical care and inpatient psychiatry.

Yesterday (Thursday, 12/18), at a public hearing in Washington, D.C., the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) Commission said that it concurred with the draft informal plan for the Walla Walla VA facility. The Commission met to finalize its recommendations for Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs Anthony Principi. The CARES Commission indicated it will likely submit its final report to Secretary Principi in the next month.

Senator Murray, who has fought the Bush Administration’s attempts to close veterans facilities in Tacoma, Vancouver, and Walla Walla, said she will continue to stand up for veterans who rely on the Walla Walla VA.

“I strongly oppose the Bush Administration’s plan to close the VA center in Walla Walla,” Murray said. “Veterans in Southeast Washington deserve access to the medical care they were promised. It’s wrong for the Bush Administration to require local veterans to drive 180 miles to see a doctor in Spokane.”

“Walla Walla was singled out by the Administration for special closure consideration at the last minute. Despite the determined advocacy of veterans and the local community, the CARES Commission has now concurred with the closure recommendation,” Senator Murray said. “I do not believe Walla Walla was treated fairly in this process. The closure decision was made to save money, rather than ensure access to care for veterans in Southeast Washington. This sends a terrible message to current veterans as well as the soldiers now in Iraq and Afghanistan who will come home in need of VA services.”

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs appears likely to approve the CARES Commission plan early next year. Senator Murray was a cosponsor of legislation – signed into law by President Bush – that requires the Secretary of the VA to notify the Congress of any actions taken to implement the CARES Commission final plan. The Secretary cannot act until after a 60-day Congressional comment and review period has expired.

“I call upon Secretary Principi to reject the plan to close the Walla Walla VA facility and to engage the Washington delegation and the Walla Walla area veterans community in a real dialogue over the future of the facility,” Senator Murray said. “If the Secretary moves forward, I will insist the VA provide a detailed plan for access to and continuity of care for Walla Walla area veterans. We need a plan and a commitment to fund health care for Southest Washington veterans.”

Senator Murray also noted that the CARES Commission and the VA have yet to fully address how closure of the Walla Walla facility affects current law (PL 100-71) which states, “The mission of the Veterans Administration Medical Center at Walla Walla, Washington, shall not be changed from that in existence on January 1, 1987.”

The draft CARES Commission plan also notes that the Walla Walla VA Medical Center is a significant local employer. “The VA also has obligations to its employees and the local economy. In this time of uncertainty for Walla Walla, the Administration and the VA must communicate and work with their employees and the local community to limit the economic hardship the closure decision will cause,” Senator Murray said.

On June 30, 2003, Murray discussed healthcare and other issues with local veterans at the VFW Grant Farmer Post 992.

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