Sioux Falls Veterans to protest potential VA facility closures on Secretary McDonough’s visit

United States Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough stopped by the VA Medical Center
United States Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough stopped by the VA Medical Center(WCAX)
Published: May. 17, 2022 at 10:11 AM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Members of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 1509 will unite on Wednesday, May 18, to protest the Veteran Affairs Department’s recommended closure of dozens of facilities nationwide, including a local veteran emergency room and the Wagner community-based outpatient clinic (CBOC).

Local VA union members and veterans will gather at 9 a.m. and bring their demands directly to VA Secretary Denis McDonough, who is planning a same-day visit to the Spellerberg Park Shelter VA facility, representatives say.

According to officials, under VA Secretary McDonough’s leadership, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently released a series of recommendations to the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission that, if enacted, would shutter large segments of the VA health care system, cause mass layoffs, deny veterans their preferred choice in health care providers.

Wednesday’s action will be the latest in a series of protests, as AFGE members in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, West Virginia, and other states join the fight against facility closures. Sioux Falls workers and veterans are joining their fellow AFGE members in calling on President Biden and members of Congress to put veteran care first and reject any AIR Commission recommendations that call for VA facility closures, representatives say.

Background on the AIR Commission

On March 14th, VA Secretary Denis McDonough issued recommendations destined for review by the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission, a board envisioned by the 2018 VA MISSION Act and tasked with assessing the VA’s recommendations. The AIR Commission nominees have yet to be confirmed by the Senate and no date has been set for a confirmation hearing.

The Secretary’s recommendations boil down to closing dozens of VA medical centers and clinics and drastically cutting outpatient and inpatient services at countless additional locations. If the AIR Commission accepts the recommendations, veterans needing surgery, intensive care, emergency care and inpatient mental health care in numerous locations will be forced to rely on private, for-profit hospitals that do not specialize in veteran care, where studies show veterans get worse care at a higher cost.

The AIR Commission process also severely limits the power of Senators and Representatives to prevent proposed closures and cuts to VA medical facilities in their own states and districts, representatives say. Once the recommendations are submitted to Congress, they are handled as a joint resolution. Congress is given a limited window to disapprove of the resolution in its entirety, without the option to modify individual recommendations. If they fail to disapprove within the allotted window of time, the recommendations go into effect.

The AIR Commission is merely the latest in a long series of attempts to privatize the VA. Over one-third of all veterans’ medical visits have already been sent outside of the VA system, and more than one-fourth of VA healthcare dollars have been diverted to the private, for-profit sector as a result of the MISSION Act, according to a press release.

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