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12 senators have shut down the AIR Commission. Here’s why that’s bad for veterans.

Empty VA Hospital Beds

By Concerned Veterans for America

Members of Congress don’t always have veterans’ best interests in mind. Case in point: shutting down the Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission.

Recently, a group of senators announced they wouldn’t take any further action on the AIR Commission, a needed review of VA’s facilities and services established under the VA MISSION Act.

Their reasoning? The AIR process is “not necessary.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The VA has been supportive of the AIR Commission, submitting recommendations for facilities the department believes need to be closed, renovated, or built to better fit the needs of veterans.

But the political theater has gotten the best of senators who want to enter an election cycle with lip-service to veterans in their states.

Aging facilities can’t keep up with evolving care

The average age of a VA facility is 60 years old. That is five times older than comparable private sector health care facilities.

With age comes maintenance and breakdown, so the older a facility gets, the more it is going to require upkeep. These facilities’ ages also mean the buildings themselves may not be able to support modern medicine and services.

The way care is provided has dramatically changed in the last six decades. It’s even changed in the last three years in the wake of COVID-19. And the injuries and conditions younger veterans deal with are different from those of older veterans.

A 60-year-old facility may not have the capability to support more modern medical needs.  Even if it could, it may cost too much to upgrade the facility. A new facility, an outpatient clinic, or supplemental community care may be better options for veterans who live near these aging facilities.

Shutting down the AIR process ensures facilities continue to age while veterans simply hope they can receive the best treatment.

Veterans are on the move, but services aren’t

Another area of focus for the AIR Commission would have been demographic changes among veterans.

The overall veteran population is decreasing. Estimates show that the population will decrease 40 percent over the next two decades or so.  If the number of veterans the VA serves is changing, the footprint of the VA should change along with it to avoid putting resources into facilities that aren’t serving many, if any, patients.

Around 1,000 of the VA’s facilities are underused or not used at all. Each facility represents money that could be spent at a more active facility or following veterans to their providers of choice.

Veterans are moving around the country too, making their homes in southern and western states.

The VA estimates over the next 20 years, states such as Texas, Florida, and North Carolina will see their veterans population increase, while states such as California, New York, and Pennsylvania will see their veterans population decrease.

It only makes sense that VA resources should be where veterans are, and that VA resources should be invested where veterans are located. That doesn’t mean areas with smaller veterans populations shouldn’t have quality resources – community care and partnerships with the VA can supplement care in rural areas with a more spread out population.

Senators choose headlines and politics

So why are senators not on board with streamlining and modernizing the VA to fit veterans’ needs?

One reason is that they lack political courage.

Senators have allowed the media and hysteria to rule the narrative on the AIR Commission.

Rather than seeing the commission for what it was, a chance to ensure the VA is best positioned to serve veterans, they’ve leaned into focusing only on potential closures, ignoring potential renovations, new builds, or community care options.

CVA Senior Advisor Darin Selnick had this to say about the news:

Simply put, this decision is short-sighted and will hurt veterans by keeping them trapped in a broken and outdated system not built to address their needs. The AIR commission was the best chance to modernize the VA health care system to meet the needs of the veterans it serves. Rather than embracing and participating in this process, a handful of senators have chosen to put politics ahead of the veterans they and the VA claim to serve.

It’s unfortunate to see those who rightly hailed this as a win for veterans now fail to find the political willpower to do the right thing.”

Shutting down the AIR Commission undermines the VA MISSION Act and hurts veterans in the long run.

Hopefully, members of Congress will come to their senses, put politics aside, and get to work prioritizing veterans and their health care.

Send a letter to these 12 senators to let them know you don’t approve of their shutting down the AIR Commission.