Veterans react to news of potential Beckley VAMC closure

Beckley VAMC
Beckley VAMC(WVVA)
Published: Apr. 21, 2022 at 5:19 PM EDT
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BECKLEY, W.Va. (WVVA) - In May, the Veteran’s Administration’s Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission (AIR) released a report, recommending that the Biden Administration close the Beckley VA Medical Center.

It has been just over a month since the report was released. While this hasn’t been enough time for a formal decision to be made, it has certainly been enough to raise concern from local veterans and even state leaders.

On Monday, April 18, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) held a virtual conference where he listened to West Virginian Veterans. The session focused on the AIR Commission’s proposals for every VA Hospital in the State.

“The AIR Commission is supposed to modernize the VA,” Manchin said during the meeting. “So far, what we’ve been able to find is just unfairly targeted rural areas because of population. Not because of the amount of service or the amount of concentration of service but just population.”

In Beckley, the Commission anticipates a 39 percent drop in inpatient medical and surgical patients by the year 2029.

AIR’s solution?

Construct a new facility that can provide nonsurgical outpatient care, while directing in-patient- and some surgical outpatient- services to other providers. This would eliminate all in-house medical, emergency and surgical care.

One veteran shared his concern about the travel distances if the recommendation on the table becomes a reality.

“A lot of veterans use that facility,” said Joseph McGhee, a retired Navy veteran. “So, the question is, what would happen to these guys? Are we going to treat these guys like this the rest of what little life they have left?”

AIR’s report also suggests increasing home-based care and broadband capabilities to support telehealth appointments.

But with this comes the fear of losing the patient-to-provider relationship.

Ellis Vest, Sixth District Commander for the Department of West Virginia and Adjunctant of American Legion Post 32 in Beckley, shared his opinion.

“I have formed good doctor-patient relations with my providers, and I don’t want to see them go, nor do I want to go somewhere else. I’m opposed to any cuts in services to veterans across the board...Veterans deserve the best medical treatment and care that the country can provide.”

As this recommendation goes through a year-long process on its way to President Biden, Vest says he will be voicing his concerns to local leaders and urging his fellow veterans to do the same.

“We just have to wait and see how it goes, but it’s never too early to voice your opinion and your concerns to your elected officials,” he said.

WVVA reached out to the Beckley VA Hospital about these concerns. The hospital responded with the following statement:

“As was required by law under the VA MISSION Act of 2018 to conduct a series of market assessments to examine future demand for health care services among the veteran population, which is projected to change in size and location over the next decade. As part of that process, VA is due to submit findings and recommendations to an independent Commission called the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission, which would review and evaluate the findings and make its own recommendations to the President in early 2023.

Veterans will always be at the center of what we do. The AIR Commission is an opportunity to redesign VA health care to maximize access and outcomes for current and future generations of Veterans. It is important to note that any recommendations to the upcoming AIR Commission are just that—recommendations. Nothing is changing now for Veteran access to care or VA employees. Any potential changes to VA’s health care infrastructure may be several years away and are dependent on Commission, Presidential, and Congressional decisions, as well as robust stakeholder engagement and planning. In the long run, AIR recommendations could impact VHA facilities and staff, but it’s too early to know exactly what or where those impacts might be. VA will remain in all of our health care markets.”

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