Biden VA chief under bipartisan fire for proposal to cut veterans services

“It’s time to double down and prevent VA leadership from pulling the red carpet out from under our veterans,” congresswoman says.

Updated: July 6, 2022 - 11:35pm

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., aren’t often united on policies, but they have joined forces to stop veteran service cuts in Washington state.

McMorris Rodgers sent a letter to Denis McDonough, President Joe Biden's secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, stating her opposition to his “misguided” recommendations regarding two VA facilities on the east side of Washington.

McDonough proposes to downsize Walla Walla’s VA hospital and end inpatient services at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane.

Under that plan, Mann-Grandstaff would be converted from a hospital into a clinic that would refer patients to non-VA hospitals to treat serious problems.

McMorris Rodgers expressed strong support in her June 30 letter for action taken by Murray and 11 other senators a few days earlier. They have procedurally blocked the VA’s Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission from moving forward on McDonough’s recommendations.

“I’ve said from the start that reducing or eliminating care options at the Spokane and Walla Walla VAs would be a disservice to the men and women in our communities who sacrificed so much for our country,” wrote McMorris Rogers.

“Stopping the AIR commission in its tracks was the first step in preventing their misguided recommendations from moving forward, but our work is far from over. It’s time to double down and prevent VA leadership from pulling the red carpet out from under our veterans by reducing services through an alternative restructuring process, which is exactly what I plan to do.”

Across the United States, McDonough’s proposal to modernize and realign the VA system would lead to the closure or a complete rebuild of dozens of hospitals and the construction of 14 new ones.

The lever that Murray and other senators have wielded to stop momentum on these plans is refusing to approve any nominees to the commission. President Joe Biden sent eight nominations to the Senate in March and one in June, but none has come up for a vote or even had a confirmation hearing.

The senators stated in a June 27 letter to McDonough that the AIR process “would put veterans in both rural and urban areas at a disadvantage” and added that the process “does not have our support and will not move forward.”

“As Senators, we share a commitment to expanding and strengthening modern VA infrastructure in a way that upholds our obligations to America’s veterans,” stated their letter.

The process to restructure the VA system to eliminate “wasteful bureaucracy” was established under the Trump administration.

The 2018 VA Mission Act requires the federal agency to reshape service delivery at about 170 medical facilities, which make up the largest U.S. integrated health care system.

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