ALBUQUERQUE, NM — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has released a list of community clinics it proposes to close in New Mexico and other rural areas across the country as part of a years-long process to modernize the department and to rationalize its Infrastructure.
Some members of Congress vowed immediate opposition on Monday, saying the clinics provide the only access to care for thousands of veterans.
US Senator Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, said the VA’s analysis had flaws, including that it was based on data collected before the coronavirus pandemic strained health systems. health in New Mexico and elsewhere. He said many vendors have disappeared over the past few years, leaving a void.
There are four clinics in New Mexico that make the list, three of which primarily serve Native American and Hispanic populations in generally underserved areas. They are in Gallup, Las Vegas, Española and Raton.
“I do not intend to see these four clinics close. They’re just too important to New Mexico veterans,” Heinrich said in an interview.
Heinrich spoke with Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough on Monday, while Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández sent a letter to the secretary seeking to make their case at the start of what will be a multi-year process.
The recommendations will be examined by a special commission which is in the process of being appointed. The commission will hold public hearings as part of its review before submitting its own recommendations to the president for consideration in 2023.
While visiting constituents in rural New Mexico, Leger Fernández said she heard how difficult it was to get care.
“The commission clearly does not understand that in our rural areas targeted for closures, there are not enough health care providers in the community,” she said. “Even more troubling is that these recommendations contradict the VA’s own findings from the local veteran stakeholder listening sessions it conducted as part of the report. This seems to indicate that the VA listened, but did not hear.
Regional VA officials briefed state officials before the report was released, saying the document recommends closing VA facilities in areas of the country where population or usage is declining. This includes the northeast, midwest, and parts of the rural west.
McDonough said in a statement posted on the VA’s website that the agency came to the recommendations by asking what would be best for veterans. He said the agency spent several weeks talking with VA employees, unions, state partners, veterans service organizations and members of Congress.
Regional VA officials said the report’s recommendations are open for debate.