Editorial: Crafty maneuver saves NM VA clinics

By:  Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board

There’s an old saying in Washington, D.C.: It’s not so much where you stand, but where you sit. In the case of a special commission tasked with closing VA clinics, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators simply refused to seat any members.

Killing the Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission effectively killed recommendations by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to close 172 of its more than 800 clinics, including four community-based outpatient clinics in rural northern New Mexico because of past and projected declines in patient volume.

It took some crafty maneuvering, but off the VA’s hit list are clinics in Española, Gallup, Las Vegas and Raton, as well as sending Rio Rancho patients to Albuquerque. Credit goes to our congressional delegation who fought the closures, particularly U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, who leveraged his seat as chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees funding for the VA. And to our veterans who spoke out during listening sessions and let the VA have it.

Killing the special commission, however, isn’t a long-term solution. The VA absolutely needs to maximize its resources, but shutting down four of the seven clinics in rural, tribal and predominately Hispanic areas in northern New Mexico was a draconian proposal. Better options include scaling back days or hours of operation and supplementing some in-person care with telemedicine.

For now, we should take the “W” and begin planning for the future so our veterans — nearly 7,000 of every 100,000 New Mexicans — aren’t forced to travel hundreds of miles to get the medical care they’ve earned.