Options that keep VA Medical Center in Walla Walla make sense

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It seems a prudent course given that personnel are already in place and the location has proven to be beneficial to veterans.

After months of study, the Local Advisory Panel has appropriately _ and wisely _ concluded that the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, in some form, should remain in Walla Walla.

The panel, which took a hard look at seven possible options for the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center, voted to pursue three of those options for further study. The three options that got the green light include:

  • Keeping the operations pretty much as they currently are.
  • Contracting out for inpatient and nursing home care and construction a new outpatient and inpatient mental health center.
  • Constructing an entirely new facility at the 88-acre property.

Since these are merely recommendations, it is certainly possible _ if not likely _ that the final plan that comes from these recommendations could include pieces of each.

The bottom line here is that the panel, as well as the four U.S. senators representing Washington and Oregon, want to keep the VA Medical Center in Walla Walla. That seems a prudent course given that personnel are already in place and the location has proven to be beneficial to veterans.

``While some in the VA claim that the need for the facility in Walla Walla has decreased, there is evidence to the contrary,'' the four senators wrote in a joint letter. Sens. Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell, Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden said the the local VA service has twice the national average in utilization.

While we concur the VA should stay in Walla Walla, we don't think it's particularly smart to keep the status quo. If improvements to the infrastructure aren't made, we fear that the debate over the future of the local VA will become an annual event.

Now that the Local Advisory Panel has made its recommendations, PricewaterhouseCoopers, the consultant hired by the VA to study the matter, will weigh in.

The consultants could bring other proposals back into play.

It's important that the senators, government officials (at all levels) and citizens keep an eye on the consultants, as well as VA officials.

``Don't let PricewaterhouseCoopers redefine the task and don't let them get away with unsubstantiated assertions,'' Walla Walla City Councilwoman Barbara Clark told the Local Advisory Panel. Clark offers good advice.

The process has, to this point, been open and democratic. That's the way it should remain.

All citizens have a stake in veterans health care. It must be first rate, and it must be accessible.

Keeping the VA Medical Center in Walla Walla appears to serve the best interests of veterans in Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon and Idaho. The local panel got it right in keeping the Walla Walla options at the top of the list.

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