It's outrageous VA doesn't have specific plans for medical care

The CARES commission recommends the VA must ensure viable medical alternatives are available in the community before the VA Medical Center is closed. We have doubts that will ever happen.

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Trust us.

That's what Department of Veterans Affairs officials have been saying as they consider acting on a recommendation by the CARES commission to close the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Medical Center as a full-service hospital.

Officials say _ over and over _ that health care for veterans in the region will not be reduced if the hospital is closed.

But Veterans Affairs officials don't point to specific plans.

Monday, we found out why. They don't exist.

Dr. Leslie M. Burger, director of the Veterans Health Administration's regional network, said as much Monday as he testified at a U.S. Senate field hearing in Walla Walla.

Burger said the VA has no plans to build new long-term or mental-health care facilities in the community or replace those at the Medical Center.

``Whether it is provided on the campus or in the community needs to be studied,'' Burger said.

That's outrageous.

It's also troubling that VA officials talk in general terms of serving more routine medical needs by contracting with local hospitals, but _ again _ no specifics are offered.

How can the VA promise comparable care when it has no plans? Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., pointed out at Monday's hearings that the VA has not asked Congress for a penny to fill the health-care gaps that will occur if the hospital closes.

The VA has botched this process. It should have spent the necessary time _ and money _ to establish clear plans for how each and every function of the VA hospital would be replicated. And if veterans are forced to leave Walla Walla for specific care, the distance they will be asked to travel must be reasonable. Guarantees must be made that medical services will be available when they are needed.

The CARES commission's final recommendations acknowledge a combination of solutions might be necessary to provide medical care for veterans in the area.

``Before taking action to alter existing VA services, VA must ensure that there are viable alternatives in the community,'' the commission recommended.

Now that's a recommendation that we could embrace. Unfortunately, we have doubts VA officials will ever do it.

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