VA Refuses to Answer Questions on Possible Washington VA Closures

Jul 29 2003

Despite advance notice, VA General Counsel says he is uninformed about Washington state. The VA’s refusal to respond to my concerns on behalf of Washington state’s veterans is appalling

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) -- Senator Murray today expressed outrage at the Department of Veterans' Affairs recent directive to potentially close VA hospitals at Vancouver, Walla Walla and at American Lake in Tacoma. Senator Murray spoke at a Senate Veterans Affairs hearing today where the committee considered legislation on the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) initiative.

Murray is a senior member of, and the first woman to serve on, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

Murray grilled Tim McClain, general counsel for the Department of Veterans Affairs, asking him why the VA Headquarters in Washington would direct the regional VA health care leadership to consider shutting down facilities in Tacoma, Walla Walla and Vancouver.

"Can you explain to this committee why Headquarters is demanding a significantly re-drawn plan from Washington state," asked Murray.

"I'm not specifically aware of this event that you’re talking about," McClain replied. "We did receive your correspondence dated July 24th essentially laying out the same parameters. Obviously we have not had the chance yet to respond to this."

Murray was less than satisfied with the weak response from the VA. Sen. Murray had sent a letter to the VA to outline her concerns on July 24th. Yesterday, Dr. Robert Roswell, Under Secretary for Health at the VA came to Murray’s office to meet with her staff and discuss Murray’s letter. And today, the VA called staff in both Murray’s office and the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs to ask what questions Murray intended to ask at the hearing.

"Despite being alerted to my concerns, the VA General Counsel refused to discuss the directive to potentially close three veterans' facilities in Washington state," Senator Murray said. "Thousands of veterans in my state depend on these facilities to receive health care when they need it most. They have served our country and deserve to be treated with the respect and dignity they have earned."

"The VA's refusal to respond to my concerns on behalf of Washington state's veterans is appalling," Murray continued.

The VA's refusal to discuss Washington state today is even more outrageous because the Undersecretary for Health was in my office yesterday to discuss this issue."

Last Wednesday, the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, DC directed the Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) 20 leadership to rewrite their market plan for future veterans health care delivery, and to consider closing VA facilities in American Lake, Walla Walla and Vancouver.

The VISN 20 market plan, originally submitted to the Department in April, detailed a growing veterans population with shortfalls in both primary and specialty care for veterans. The VISN 20 plan did not call for the closure of any VA facilities in Washington state.

The Department of Veterans' Affairs has an internal deadline of August 1st to compile and release the "draft" National Cares Plan that will go to the CARES Commission.