State Veterans Assistance Secretary Ted Diaz warned lawmakers on Monday about the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ recommendations that he believes would negatively impact healthcare for West Virginia’s veterans.
Diaz’s testimony came roughly a month after the federal agency released its Asset and Infrastructure Review with recommendations to “modernize facilities and realign priorities” as a result of Congress passing the VA Mission Act in 2018.
If these recommendations are implemented, West Virginia would see a significant reduction in services. Some facilities will stop offering health care and instead attempt to utilize relationships with health care partners for care. The medical centers in Huntington, Beckley and Clarksburg would reduce health care options. Federal officials recommend replacing the Beckley VA Medical Center with a facility that only provides primary care, outpatient mental health and non-surgical outpatient services.
Diaz noted that inpatient mental health care, inpatient and outpatient surgeries, and emergency room care will be eliminated. Community-based outpatient clinics in Parsons and Franklin also face closure under the recommendations.
These services, for about 71,000 state veterans enrolled in the VA health care system, would be divided among other health care providers in the community at a time when rural hospitals are already struggling. Diaz noted that wait times at community facilities can be weeks or months compared to the VA system’s one to two weeks. Diaz also emphasized his concerns of the ability of non-VA facilities to address veterans’ unique needs, trauma that is often both physical and mental in nature.
Diaz told lawmakers that the best recommendation he can give state lawmakers, one that he has already shared with the state’s Congressional delegation, is to do everything possible to eliminate this plan now.
The federal agency has until Jan. 31, 2023 to hold public hearings and submit a report to the Biden administration on the proposed changes. Diaz is attempting to get out ahead of this deadline so West Virginia leaders can lobby the Biden administration to eliminate this plan.
Lawmakers concluded Monday’s meeting by voting to draft a resolution to show opposition to these federally recommended cutbacks. The resolution is likely to be presented at the Legislature’s next Special Session later this year.