CHILLICOTHE, Ohio — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released an assessment on Monday that recommends the closure of the Chillicothe V.A. Medical Center.
The closure stems from a law signed by former President Donald J. Trump in 2018, when Congress passed the Mission Act. As part of the bill, a group would asses the future of healthcare for veterans in the country.
According to the report provided by the commission, the recommendations concerning the Chillicothe facility included closing the entire campus and creating regional urgent cares.
The recommendations listed are:
- Establishing a strategic collaboration to provide inpatient medical services and discontinuing those services at the Chillicothe VAMC.
- Relocating inpatient mental health, RRTP, CLC, and outpatient services currently provided at the Chillicothe VAMC to current or future VA facilities and discontinuing those services at the Chillicothe VAMC.
- Closing the Chillicothe VAMC.
- Establishing a new MS CBOC in the vicinity of Chillicothe, Ohio.
In the report, the federal commission stated, “The Chillicothe VAMC is not optimally located as it is an estimated 60 minutes south of Columbus, Ohio, the largest population center in the state. In addition to the projected decrease in bed need for inpatient acute care services at the VAMC, the enrollee population in the Chillicothe area (Ross County) is projected to decrease by 8.5% to 3,196 enrollees by FY 2029.”
A spokesperson for the Veterans Health Administration in Washington, D.C., told the Guardian last week that healthcare remains a priority.
“Veterans will always be at the center of what we do. The AIR Commission is an opportunity to redesign VA health care to maximize access and outcomes for current and future generations of veterans. It is important to note that any recommendations to the upcoming AIR Commission are just that—recommendations.”
The Chillicothe facility has been in operation since 1924, and employs nearly 1,400 people. Employees were told about the projected closure earlier this month. Those employees and others who attended a recent briefing but wished to remain anonymous so they could speak freely about the report said previously announced plans to transfer the primary mission of the Chillicothe facility to Columbus remains in play.
“We’ve all heard the stories of the promises Uncle Sam made to these brave men and women during earlier conflicts. To take away their local medical care would be devastating,” said a passionate Johna Pulver. Pulver has been with the local veteran’s advocacy office for more than 30 years. Her father was in the United States military.
“One more slap to the face of those who willingly risk their lives to protect the rest of us. The service Chillicothe VA provides to the veterans of southern Ohio is essential. The convenience of location is critical to our older veterans. They are not numbers; they are human beings. Some have endured horrors the rest of us can’t begin to imagine. It is important they be allowed to remain close to home at this fragile stage of life.”
Pulver started to get emotional as the passion inside her became evident.
“As we approach the one-hundredth anniversary of the Chillicothe VA and think of the thousands of WWI war-wounded treated at Camp Sherman. The Spanish flu epidemic and the countless thousands who have served in every war and conflict since then have received medical treatment here. It is difficult for me to understand how anyone or any group of people claiming to have the best interests of America’s veterans at heart would think eliminating this facility is a good idea. ”
Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis R. McDonough said on Thursday during an online conversation with stakeholders the “recommendations, if approved, will add up to the one thing that matters most: more care and better care for the vets we serve.” He said the recommendations are based market assessments, studies of VA facilities, local partnerships, and the make-up of veteran population by health care needs, age, race, gender, era of service and area of residence.
McDonough said he understood those who may be concerned about the prospect for future change. To address those concerns there has been a coordinated effort to communicate with VA employees, union members, VA partners, veterans and service organizations before the report was published.
“I also want to say now to anyone who’s concerned about the process that VA is here to stay,” McDonough said. “This is an investment in VA, not a retreat; we’re doubling down and strengthening our ability to deliver world-class health care.”
McDonough said in markets where changes have been recommended, the health care infrastructure will be built to meet shifting needs of veteran care. When new infrastructure is in place and there is no more need for the old medical center, he said, closure will be recommended “so we can focus on investing in new facilities rather than pouring limited dollars into a facility that opened just after World War I.”
VA resources state that since the report is published, the AIR Commission will begin conducting public hearings, visit VA facilities, meet with employees and VA partners – and get input from veterans. AIR Commission members will assess the recommendations, make any changes they deem necessary, and forward them to the president.
McDonough said on Thursday the president will decide whether to submit the recommendations to Congress, which can accept those recommendations as a whole by inaction or reject them by passing a joint resolution. If the recommendations are approved, the VA must begin implementation within three years — timelines for completion will vary by market according to priorities and funding.
In 2020, the VA closed its acute care facility, spurring protests from veteran organizations and the American Federation of Government Employees Union. The decision left hundreds of local veterans having to trek to Dayton, Columbus, and Cincinnati for healthcare.
Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown pinned a letter regarding the consolidation and closure of the acute care facility.
“It has come to my attention that VA is in the process of consolidating positions within the facility, and neither the decision to do so nor the process has been transparent with veterans, their families, or local stakeholders. Any decision to consolidate services at a facility or close a medical service line should be transparent and provide for opportunities for the community to provide feedback,” said Senator Brown.
The announcement have caught the attention of 2022 Gubernatorial hopefuls.
Former Dayton Mayor and Democratic Candidate Nan Whaley was fired up about the possible closure.
“The fact of the matter is, Ohio must do so much more to support our veterans. Our state is currently leaving federal VA money on the table to build and maintain veteran’s new facilities while our facilities have a waitlist,” she told the Guardian. “As Governor, I’ll fight to keep our promises to veterans by building at least 15 new state veterans homes with 1,000 new beds. We owe our veterans nothing less.”