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Heinrich, VA Secretary Agree That AIR Commission Data On Veteran Health Care Needs To Be Reassessed

Current recommendations could impact the delivery of health care services at the community-based outpatient clinics, threaten health care services for rural New Mexico veterans

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees funding for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), emphasized the importance of VA Secretary Denis McDonough providing reassessed data that will drive proposed changes to the delivery of VA health care services.

In March, Senator Heinrich objected to recommendations that the VA provided for the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission, which could impact the delivery of health care services at the community-based outpatient clinics (CBOCs) in Gallup, Las Vegas, Española, and Raton.

Senator Heinrich has pointed out that the AIR Commission relied on faulty and limited assessments based on data compiled from December 2018 to November 2020. This data does not accurately account for the severe health care shortages in New Mexico and the exacerbating impacts of COVID-19 on the health care market. 

Senator Heinrich brought up the data concerns during a Wednesday hearing to review the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget and Fiscal Year 2024 Advance Appropriations Requests for the VA. Secretary McDonough said that this is a “principal concern” of his, acknowledged that the data is dated, and expressed that the AIR Commission should update its recommendations once a separate assessment is completed.

Senator Heinrich has invited the VA Secretary to join him at CBOCs in New Mexico for him to be able to see the on-the-ground impacts of the recommendations. During the hearing, Secretary McDonough voiced that he “hopes to spend time in New Mexico with [Senator Heinrich]” to assess veteran care infrastructure.

New Mexico has the 9th largest percentage of veterans by state population that is not concentrated in an urban area. Nearly half of these veterans are over the age of 65, and due to illness and service-related disabilities, find it difficult to travel long distances for medical care.

AIR Commission recommendations are the first step in a multi-year process—they can include remodeling, building new facilities, moving, closing facilities and changing services offered. The President recently nominated 8 individuals for the AIR Commission, all of whom will require Senate confirmation. Under the law, all VA proposals are required to be reviewed by the Commission, the President, and Congress.