VA Hospitals Face Overhaul
Plan to do massive restructuring will be announced today

June 6, 2002

by staff and wire reports

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America's Veterans


Washington - Veterans hospitals in cities across the country could be closed as the Departments of Veterans Affairs shifts its focus to outpatient care and works to bring services closer to people who need them.

The massive restructuring, being announced today, would touch every community where the VA operates, though decisions about specific cities and hospitals won't be made for more than a year. In some cities, hospitals are likely to be closed or operations scaled back; in others, new services will be added.

"This is not about the closure of facilities. It's about continuing the change in VA health care and changing it for the better," Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. Leo S. Mackay Jr. said in an interview.

Decisions about where to cut and where to add will be made after analyses of demographics and services available at 163 hospitals and more than 1,000 clinics, nursing homes and other health care facilities.

An independent, nine-member commission is to make recommendations to the VA secretary in August 2003. As with recommendations on military base closings, the secretary must accept or reject the plan as a whole - an attempt to minimize the politics surrounding the closure of sometimes-cherished institutions.

The news surprised officials at Marion's VA Medical Center.

"It's embarrassing that we have not heard about this," said Robert Beller, associate director of the VA Northern Indiana Healthcare System, that included the Marion and Fort Wayne VA facilities. "I'm completely unaware of any such changes."

Although he had not received any official word on the restructuring or how the Marion facility might be affected, Beller said the local hospital has been treating an increased number of veterans each year.

"We've grown 63 percent in the last two years," he said. "If anything, we've been growing, not receding in numbers."

William Overby, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1020 that represents about 650 workers at the Marion VA Medical Center, said the union's Washington office also had not contacted him about any changes.

"Obviously, there is some concern," he said.

The news has some veterans concerned that the VA many be dismantling an infrastructure that is part of the National Homeland Security Plan. And they worry that some vets will lose access to care.

"While they keep saying they're improving services, they are drastically cutting services" said Bruce Perry, 55 of Veterans for Unification, a Chicago advocacy group. "The result will be the VA serves fewer veterans, and as people find it less attractive, they will have further excuses for shutting more down in the future."

The national overhaul, recommended by government auditors in 1999, is aimed at shifting dollars away from aging, inefficient facilities in communities where the number of veterans is shrinking in order to provide modern medicine closer to where vets of the future will live.

The 1999 audit, by the General Accounting Office, predicted that without change, the VA would wind up spending billions of dollars to operate unneeded buildings - with as much as one of every four VA health care dollars devoted to the maintenance and operation of facilities.