Changes Proposed for VA Healthcare Infrastructure

VA Healthcare

Changes Proposed for VA Healthcare Infrastructure


The Department of Veterans Affairs has finalized its recommendations to Congress to modernize VA healthcare facilities and improve working conditions for VA employees. The recommendations were submitted under the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission, mandated by Congress in 2018. President Biden has until February 2023 to approve the recommendations or the process ends.


The agency plans to build fourteen new hospitals and 140 outpatient clinics as part of the sweeping $2 trillion proposed infrastructure overhaul. The proposal would also close 35 medical centers in 21 states. The VA still asserts the move will improve access to healthcare for veterans.


The proposed changes could significantly change the face of the Veterans Administration. “We will be shifting toward new infrastructure or different infrastructure that accounts for how healthcare has changed, matches the needs of that market, and strengthens our research and education missions,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said. “Most of all, we’ll ensure that veterans who live in [any] location have access to the world-class care they need when they need it,” he added.


Most of the contractions and closures are in the northeast, where the Veteran population has declined in recent years. Conversely, most of the scheduled expansions are in the south and west. Cost is expected to be the biggest obstacle to the proposal. The independent commission should finish its review by 2023, and then it will be up to Congress.


Trends in Veteran Population


The proposed changes are ostensibly based on changes in veteran demographics. The veteran population, according to the commission, is “shrinking in size but growing in diversity.”


The report also notes that half of all veterans live in just ten states. The veteran population is growing in the South and Southwest, but declining in the Northeast. Thus, the commission sees a need to close some facilities in the Northeast, and open new facilities in the South and Southwest.


Due to the aging veteran population, demand for outpatient and long-term support services, including nursing home care, has increased in recent years.


Recruiting Specialty Physicians


Currently, many compensation examinations are conducted by medical contractors, which may not always yield the most reliable results. The VA’s limited resources mean it cannot compete with high private sector salaries and struggles to recruit specialty physicians. This, in addition to the difficulty in recruiting staff members generally, means longer wait times for veterans and uncertainty about specialty medical care, and quality of care.


The proposed changes include higher incentives for “mission-critical positions,” the ability to waive pay limitations, expansion of the loan repayment program, the ability to remove locality pay limitations for remote employees, the ability to raise the pay cap for pharmacists and other health occupations, expansion of coverage for nurse specialty pay, and a simpler process for recruiting non-citizens to the VA workforce.


The recommendations also call for an expansion to telehealth, as VA has increased access to virtual health services by 1,700% due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Impact on VA Disability Claims


The goal of the changes is to improve care in every respect for veterans. Ideally, the expansion of facilities in places with higher veteran populations will improve wait times for examinations, which should speed up the claims process.


Additionally, if the proposed changes to the recruitment process are approved they could have the intended impact. Speialty physicians will be available everywhere they are needed. Which will further improve wait times and speed up the claims process. An improved recruitment process will ensure VA facilities are all fully-staffed.


Currently, the average age of a VA hospital is 60 years. For reference, the average age of a private health facility is around 8.5 years. If VA is able to build new facilities and modernize current ones, veterans in and out of the claims processes will have access to more reliable and fast care.


Congressional Response


Most members of Congress agree that the status quo of VA healthcare is unacceptable and that changes are necessary.


Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Montana) said he would reject proposals. His vision is that the proposals “blindly look to reduce access to VA care.  Or put our veterans at a disadvantage.”


American Federation of Government Employees President Everett Kelly took a more negative stance on the proposed changes.  Stating the plans would “dismantle large segments of the VA health care system.”


Rely on Savvy Attorneys


No matter how the healthcare infrastructure changes, an attorney is a valuable partner in all phases of a disability claim. For a free consultation with an experienced Veterans disability lawyer, contact the Cameron Firm, P.C. at 800-861-7262 or fill out the contact box on our website. We are here to represent Veterans nationwide.


This article is for educational and marketing purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship.