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What is the AIR Commission, and how could it help improve VA health care?

By Concerned Veterans for America

What is the AIR Commission, and how could it help improve VA health care?

If you’ve read or heard anything about the VA MISSION Act, you know what the law does to improve and expand veterans’ access to medical care. It created a new community care program that gives more veterans the freedom to choose medical care from providers outside the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

But access to community providers is only one way the VA MISSION Act is improving care for veterans. 

The law also provides for a full review of the VA’s facilities to assess how the department is serving veterans and what improvements it can make. That review will be done by a Senate appointed panel of experts called the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission. 

The AIR Commission and its recommendations will modernize the way VA delivers health care to patients.  

Here’s what you need to know about the commission’s goals and what they mean for veterans. 

New ideas for delivering care 

Reviewing the VA’s assets and infrastructure is laid out in the VA MISSION Act and has broad, bipartisan support. Ensuring the VA is in a good position to deliver care to an ever-changing veteran population is something we can all agree is necessary.  

To meet this goal, the VA requires an independent panel be assembled to study the VA’s infrastructure and make recommendations for how the VA can modernize.  

The AIR Commission review will include: 

  • An assessment of the 7,500 buildings the VA owns, leases, and operates 
  • Building utilization 
  • Whether facilities are in need of updating 
  • Funding necessary to upgrade facilities 
  • Changes in the veteran population and medical technology and how they affect the way health care is delivered 

The AIR Commission has a great deal of information to work with already. Studies have shown that of the VA’s existing facilities, over 1,000 buildings are either empty or underutilized, meaning the VA is spending millions of dollars each year to keep underused facilities running.  

VA facilities are also over 50 years old on average, five times older than comparable private sector health care facilities. The VA has identified upwards of $51 billion needed to invest in facilities over the next 10 years.  

Demographics will also be an important factor for the AIR Commission to consider. The VA estimates within 25 years the veteran population will decrease nearly 40 percent. Veterans are also increasingly moving to southern and western states. 

Finally, the nature of medical care is rapidly changing with new technology and delivery. Innovative techniques, less invasive surgeries, and a greater focus on outpatient care have dramatically changed the type of care veterans need.  

Having a full understanding about age and use of buildings, along with how and where veterans are receiving care will inform the AIR Commission’s recommendations for how the VA can best deliver care in a way that serves veterans now and in the future. 

Taking recommendations and establishing the commission 

As with other provisions of the VA MISSION Act, asset and infrastructure review is a multi-step process. Each element is critical to ensuring careful thought goes into each recommendation and later, each reform implemented at the VA. 

In February, the VA published its criteria for how it will make recommendations to the AIR Commission. The criteria are now available for public comment, allowing the VA to draw opinions from organizations and veterans affected by potential changes in the VA health care system. CVA submitted comments recommending the VA prioritize the needs of veterans and follow recommended criteria provided in the MISSION Act to accomplish that goal. 

While public comment is ongoing, President Joe Biden will submit a list of AIR Commission nominees to the Senate by the end of May. The Senate will then go through a confirmation process to finalize the commission and get the panel to work. 

Once the AIR Commission is established, it will start a year-long review, then deliver its report to the president. 

Improving outcomes at the VA 

Tireless work and careful procedure will go into establishing a commission, studying and reviewing many aspects of veterans’ health care needs, and delivering a final report. 

But the process is an important step to ultimately deliver better outcomes for veterans.  

A review of VA facilities and innovations in medical care, should lead to a streamlined VA system that is dynamic enough to deliver high-quality care to veterans in flexible ways. 

Throughout the process, CVA will stay involved and engaged to ensure the needs of veterans are put first and that the VA is moving toward a more veteran-focused system. 

Read more about the AIR Commission and our ideas for modernizing the VA.