The future of Veterans Affairs health care across Colorado — and the nation, for that matter — is in the hands of the independent Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission. It’s a group of nine presidentially appointed and congressionally approved leaders who will conduct public hearings over the next 12 months and make recommendations.
The VA released the AIR report and the secretary’s final recommendations for the modernization or realignment of the VA’s health care system March 14; the report is available at va.gov/aircommissionreport.
What does all this mean for Colorado? Allow me to break it down for you with a Q&A.
Why did market assessments take place and why is there an AIR Commission?
The VA MISSION Act of 2018 required the department to conduct a series of market assessments to examine future demand for health care services among the veteran population. Once complete, the VA had to submit findings and recommendations to the AIR Commission.
When will this take place?
We’re in the middle of a three-step process. First, the VA did studies of every VA area across the U.S. over the past couple of years, known as market assessments. These studies analyzed the makeup of our veterans by health care needs, demographic factors and geography.
Second, the VA used those market assessments to inform recommendations for the future of the VA’s health care infrastructure. The VA secretary announced the recommendations March 14.
The third step involves a very specific cadence. The AIR Commission will hold public hearings, visit VA facilities and listen to veterans to assess the recommendations. The commissioners will then transmit the recommendations, with any changes, to the president in early 2023. President Joe Biden will then determine whether to submit those recommendations to Congress. If he does so, Congress can accept those recommendations as a whole by inaction or reject them in their entirety by passing a joint resolution of disapproval.
What does this mean for Colorado veterans?
Between outpatient care, strategic collaborations and referrals to community providers, the VA will continue to deliver access to world-class care for every veteran, in the community and in rural areas, in every corner of the Centennial State. Although there are three health care systems operating in Colorado, nearly all Gazette readers live in the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System, which covers the Denver metro area, Colorado Springs area and much of the territory along the Front Range.
Here are the major recommendations by county. Keep in mind, these are only recommendations; nothing will change now or in the immediate future. Any proposed changes are several years away from potential implementation.
El Paso County: Provide inpatient medical and surgical services by either constructing a new VA Medical Center in the vicinity of Colorado Springs or through a strategic collaboration with the Department of Defense. Provide inpatient mental health services in the Colorado Springs area.
Pueblo County: Transition services from the existing Community Living Center (CLC) in Pueblo to a 48-bed CLC in Colorado Springs.
Douglas County: Establish a new VA Clinic in the Castle Rock area.
Arapahoe County: Relocate the Aurora VA Clinic to a new site in the same area.
Denver County: Relocate to a new site on the Denver VAMC property; close the temporarily deactivated Denver VA Clinic.
Chaffee, Kit Carson, Otero and Prowers counties: Relocate all services at the Salida VA Clinic, Burlington VA Clinic, La Junta VA Clinic and Lamar VA Clinic. Any recommended closure of rural clinics relocates care to community providers, allowing veterans to have local, convenient access to care.
What actions should Colorado veterans take?
Enroll in VA health care and use the benefits you earned. Any VA modernization efforts or infrastructure improvements reflect the number of veterans enrolled in VA health care. The more enrolled veterans there are in any county/region, the more services the VA will consider offering. This will keep world-class care where veterans live. Alternatively, telehealth is always a viable option to continue to receive care in any location.
Thanks for allowing me to walk alongside you behind friendly lines.