Covid push delayed release of VA recommendations for facility closures and extensions


Veterans Affairs leaders were due to unveil later this month a department-wide plan for changes in staffing levels and facility planning that could have long-term effects on the health system footprint across America for years to come.

Now, due to the ongoing pandemic, those plans will have to wait a bit longer.

Department heads on Friday announced a delay of up to six weeks in unveiling the report – as part of the Review of assets and infrastructure ongoing within VA for the past two years – due to staffing issues caused by the recent surge in coronavirus cases.

Senior officials said the report would still likely be complete by Jan.31, the date of initial disclosure, but VA Secretary Denis McDonough chose to delay its publication in the Federal Register because he wanted to ” first discuss the recommendations with the staff of the department.

The clinical demands of the increase in COVID-19 cases linked to the new Omicron variant and the limited in-person presence at some VA facilities make these meetings impossible in the coming weeks, officials said.

Market assessment work – which includes a review of the 7,500 buildings that VA owns and operates across America today – has been eagerly awaited by critics of the department for years, who argue that VA needs to ‘a basic closure-type review to ensure officials are not wasting money on obsolete locations.

In the past, VA officials have said they have nearly 1,000 non-vacant but underutilized facilities spread across the country, creating a significant drain on the department’s resources. But shutting down many of them would require an act of Congress.

The secretary’s recommendations could include partially or fully closing those in areas little used by veteran patients and building new ones in areas of higher demand.

It is also designed to take into account other private sector health care options available in regions with existing VA facilities, to determine whether the department is providing duplicate services that can be accessed inexpensively and in an affordable manner. more convenient through community care options.

Once the report is made public, it will be reviewed by an independent commission of nine people. This panel will hold public hearings on the recommendations and offer its own suggestions directly to the president, with a deadline for its work of March 2023.

Panel members were due to be appointed last fall. However, not all places have been filled yet. VA officials said they were waiting for lawmakers to finalize the list.

Senior VA officials said the further delay in the secretary’s report should not negatively affect the commission’s schedule, but they also couldn’t say when commission members will be announced publicly.

As of Friday afternoon, VA had reported more than 58,000 active cases of coronavirus among patients at 140 departmental medical centers. Before the past few weeks, the highest daily total for VA was only around 21,000 cases.

The sharp increase in COVID-19 cases within the system mirrors the same spike across America over the past month. Health officials said the numbers could climb further in the coming weeks.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, DC since 2004, focusing on policies relating to military personnel and veterans. His work has earned him numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk Award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism Award, and the VFW News Media Award.