Over the next four months, the VA will host virtual listening sessions with veterans across the country on how the agency can improve services as it develops a health care system to meet veterans’ needs over the next 25 years.
The VA is encouraging veterans, veterans service organizations like MOAA, community veterans engagement boards, and other interested individuals or groups to attend a listening session in your area, either by phone or computer. The VA is also interested in connecting via email.
Click this link to find and register for a listening session in your region, and to find out how to email your information to the VA if you are unable to participate in a session.
VA wants your insights on:
- How veterans want care to be delivered in the future.
- Perception of the quality of health care at the VA and in the VA’s community network.
- Experience with the ability to get care at the VA and within the VA’s community network.
- Satisfaction with the condition and location of VA facilities.
- The VA’s role in research, education, and emergency preparedness.
Why Is VA Doing This?
One of the provisions of the VA MISSION Act, which became law in 2018, required the establishment of a commission to review and recommend realigning resources to strengthen and modernize the VA medical infrastructure for the changing veteran population. This nonpartisan commission will make recommendations and help guide the administration and Congress in addressing VA’s health care infrastructure for the future.
The listening sessions, which run through June, provide information the VA Health Administration (VHA) will use to develop its recommendations to the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission by January 2022. The department’s efforts to implement the legislation and to design an equitable, high quality, veteran-centered health care system represent a major shift in how the VHA will deliver care and invest in its aging infrastructure.
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Major Reviews in the Works
Members of Congress and administration officials are keenly aware of the timeline leading up to the start of the AIR Commission work next year. By law, the president must appoint members of the commission in May 2021. In addition to the listening sessions, VHA has been conducting market assessments around the country — some of these assessments began before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The market assessments are looking at existing VHA facilities to determine whether to update or replace the infrastructure to meet modernization requirements. The assessments also evaluate care available in the community or other federal health systems, including the military health system and the TRICARE network.
Last week, House appropriators on the military construction and VA subcommittee held a hearing to examine the department’s progress in its infrastructure review.
[RELATED: Lawmakers Want to Make All Vets, Some Caregivers Eligible for VA COVID-19 Vaccines]
According to the VA, there are more than 1,000 underused facilities in the system — many of these VA-owned buildings are almost 60 years old, on average. The VA is not authorized to close these facilities without approval from Congress.
The subcommittee leadership acknowledged the poor state of some VHA buildings, yet also noted others are quite modern and provide a welcoming environment for veterans and employees. While more money is needed to address facility issues, the VHA must have the staff to support existing and future facility requirements.
When Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chair of the subcommittee, asked VA’s executive director of the office of asset and enterprise management, Brett Simms, what portion of VHA facilities are in poor condition, he told lawmakers the department’s backlog has grown to over $22 billion.
Simms said 69 percent of VA main hospitals are over 50 years old, and “VA’s ‘skip list,’ a list of everything VA would like to do and is needed for patient and employee safety, is between $49 and $59 billion.”
The VA recognizes the need for more investment in building new medical facilities and modernizing existing infrastructure, but also the need to change how it delivers care to be more in line with the private sector. Additionally, the market assessments and the AIR Commission must consider the impact the pandemic has had on delivery of care in the VHA and the civilian sector, including the department’s role in executing its Fourth Mission, a critical element in the nation’s response to war, national emergencies, and national disasters.
Simms told subcommittee members VHA’s infrastructure is core to national security. He further suggested facility requirements the VA needs to support its mission are expected to be considered in a large infrastructure package by the administration.
In the meantime, Congress, the administration, MOAA, and other stakeholders are tracking and working to stay engaged in VHA’s infrastructure review, along with the AIR Commission’s work once it convenes next year.
Until then, MOAA members, veterans and users of VA health care, and our partners can do your part by attending a VA listening session in your region or by submitting your thoughts on the topics above to VHAMAQs@va.gov.
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