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Diaz: VA proposed plan ‘needs to be eliminated now’

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State Veterans Assistance Secretary Ted Diaz is warning West Virginia lawmakers about the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ recommendations that would impact health care options for veterans.

Diaz appeared Monday before the West Virginia Legislature’s Select Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in Session to discuss the federal agency’s recently proposed changes to the health care system. The department has publicly released recommendations to its Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission that officials contend would improve and modernize services.

West Virginia would see a reduction in services amid declining patient enrollment. Some facilities will stop offering health care and utilize relationships with health care partners. The medical centers in Huntington, Beckley and Clarksburg would reduce health care options with some spaces being converted into new areas. Officials also recommend replacing the Beckley VA Medical Center with a facility that only provides primary care, outpatient mental health and non-surgical outpatient services.

“My best recommendation I give to you — and I’ve already given to the congressional delegation in D.C. — is this plan needs to be eliminated now,” Diaz said Monday.

Diaz noted services involving inpatient mental health care, inpatient and outpatient surgeries, and emergency room care will be eliminated. Community-based outpatient clinics in Parsons and Franklin also face closure, with Diaz adding there are no plans to transfer services.

“The balance of care would be reliant on rural hospitals located throughout the state and providers within those communities,” Diaz said.

He added, “Our concerns are with the ability of the non-VA facilities to address the unique veteran situation. Veterans have a unique need of care, whether it be traumatic injuries injured in battle [or] mental health issues from the mental injures that have been inflicted through the years of war.”

Diaz noted he has spoken to West Virginia’s federal legislators on the report. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., held a town hall last week with Diaz and other veterans leaders about the recommendations and the possible effects.

The AIR Commission has until Jan. 31, 2023 to hold public hearings and submit a report to the Biden administration on the proposed changes.

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