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N.M. Congressional Democrats: Veteran Community-Based Outpatient Clinics To Remain Open

WASHINGTON (June 27, 2022) – U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representatives Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.) and Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.) announced today that Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) community-based outpatient clinics (CBOC) in New Mexico are no longer in jeopardy of closing. The lawmakers have collectively objected to the recommendations put forth to the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission, which could have impacted the delivery of health care services at the CBOCs in Gallup, Las Vegas, Española, and Raton in New Mexico.

“I’ve fought like hell every step of the way to keep the community-based outpatient clinics in Gallup, Las Vegas, Española, and Raton open, and I’m pleased to announce we’ve succeeded. By putting a halt to the AIR Commission process today, these clinics that provide quality health care to New Mexico veterans are no longer in jeopardy of closing. Throughout my time in the Senate, I have worked closely with these communities to open and support their CBOCs, which are an example of what the VA has been doing right to meet the needs of veterans in rural areas,” said Sen. Heinrich, the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees funding for the VA, who introduced the Elimination of the VA Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission Act to eliminate the commission that is tasked with finding VA facilities that should be consolidated or realigned. “I remain fully committed to keeping America’s promise to all of our state’s veterans and ensure they receive the quality health care and benefits that they have earned.”

“Since March when the VA released its recommendations for veteran clinic closures to today, I've been vocal that closing facilities will adversely affect the care our veterans receive and the family members that care for them,” said Sen. Luján. “I’m proud to join a bipartisan group of Senators announcing that we will not be moving forward with the AIR Commission process, effectively abolishing the Commission and ending the conversation on clinic closures. Our nation’s veterans deserve the highest-level of care. We need to be looking at ways to expand access to care in rural America, not closing clinics and pushing veterans to travel hours or even days for care. I look forward to working with President Biden and Congress to strengthen the care we provide our service members and veterans.”

“Over the last few months, I listened to veterans in Raton, Las Vegas, Española, and Gallup describe how the VA community health clinics provided them access to essential care. I carried their stories and worries about losing these clinics when I repeatedly urged Secretary McDonough and worked with my colleagues to keep the clinics open,” said Rep. Leger Fernandez. “We promised the vets we would do everything we could to keep the clinics open and the Senate action to halt the AIR Commission keeps that promise. The veterans earned the right to receive care wherever they live - the VA care is even more important in our rural areas.”

“Today, the Senate Committee on Veteran’s Affairs has listened to New Mexico’s veterans and veterans across the country. I am grateful for the Committee’s announced pause of the AIR Commission which proposed to close several VA clinics across New Mexico. With this pause, these clinics will remain open,” said Rep. Stansbury. “New Mexico’s congressional delegation, including myself, have stood strong in our opposition to the closures of these clinics, which provide essential care to so many veterans across the state. We are grateful to our veterans for their service and to everyone who shared their stories over the last several months. I am thankful to serve alongside leaders who understand what service means. But the work is not over—we must find a permanent solution and invest in addressing the needs of our veterans across the state and across the country.”

Earlier today, Heinrich and Luján joined Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.), along with a bipartisan group of Senators, in announcing their collective opposition to the AIR Commission process moving forward in the Senate, which signifies the end of the AIR Commission.

In 2018 Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law the VA MISSION Act. Among its many provisions, the law required the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to research, develop and publish a list of recommendations intended to modernize VA medical facilities and health care delivery—including through facility expansions, relocations, closures or changes in services. The law further directed those recommendations to be reviewed by a presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed Commission, which would then report its views of the recommendations to the President who could end the process or present recommendations to Congress for a vote. Without the Senate’s approval of the nominees, no Commission will be established and the process as outlined by the VA MISSION Act will not move forward.