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Rounds, Manchin Introduce Bill to Protect Rural Veterans’ Access to Healthcare

Legislation would prevent a VA-like BRAC that could put the future of the Hot Springs VA Campus in Jeopardy

WASHINGTON-- U.S. Senators Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, today introduced the Elimination of the VA Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission of 2019 Act. If passed, this bill will eliminate the commission that is tasked with finding facilities that should be consolidated or realigned. This bill is necessary because rural healthcare is essential to many South Dakotans and the AIR Commission threatens the longevity of rural VA hospitals across the country. The AIR Act originally passed into law as a part of the 2018 Mission Act, despite the Senators’ objections.  

“The Department of Veterans Affairs is long overdue for reforms, and I support VA Secretary Wilkie’s efforts to streamline processes to reduce the red tape veterans have to go through,” said Rounds. “However, I do not support the creation of a ‘BRAC-like’ commission that seeks out facilities to close down—with no input from Congress. In fact, it’s part of the reason I voted against the VA MISSION Act in the first place. In South Dakota, many of our veterans live in rural areas and the facilities they go to need to be improved, not closed down entirely. Our legislation would eliminate the commission so facilities like the Hot Springs Hospital can continue to care for our region’s rural veterans. I’m pleased to partner with Sen. Manchin on this issue, and I look forward to working with our colleagues in the Senate and our state’s veterans and Veteran Service Organizations to move it forward.” 

Without this bill, the AIR Act would create a 9 member commission tasked with conducting a comprehensive review of VA facilities and identifying where investments should be made as well as where facilities should be consolidated, realigned, exchanged, out leased, replaced, sold or disposed. In the early 2000s, the last time there was an asset review, the CARES Commission recommended closing the acute inpatient hospital beds and contracting services for acute care for the Beckley VA Medical Center.