CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – A report that provides recommendations for modernizing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care facilities and ways to expand and improve health care delivery for veterans nationwide has been released.

Read the VA Recommendations to the AIR Commission full report.

The MISSION Act of 2018 required the VA to conduct a nationwide study and issue recommendations for future investments in VA health care facilities. The VA conducted a large-scale assessment of its healthcare system over several years. The idea is to create a long-term healthcare plan that will meet the needs of the growing number of veterans and much-needed improvements to medical facilities. Some of the buildings being used are over 80 years old.

For western Massachusetts, the study suggested closing and moving services from the VA campus in Leeds. This idea has sparked concern and outrage among veterans and their supporters who depend on local services.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough recently discussed current conditions at VA facilities, including infrastructure issues and health care management. McDonough emphasized the importance of bringing the VA healthcare system into the 21st century with new and updated medical facilities, recognizing gender-specific care, and a focus on mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness.

WATCH THE VIDEO- A Conversation with VA Secretary McDonough on the Department’s Recommendations to the Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission.

The assessment addresses the changing demographics of veterans: age, where and when they served, where they live, and the increasing number of women in the military. The recommendations are broken down by market . The assessment found that “The enrolled Veteran population in the West Market is projected to decrease. Demand for acute inpatient care is also projected to decrease; however, demand for long-term care and outpatient services is projected to increase. The Central Western Massachusetts VAMC, located in Northampton, Massachusetts, was built in 1923 and has significant facilities maintenance issues and investment requirements. As the population shifted over time, the facility is no longer in the optimal location to serve Veterans. The market’s heaviest concentrations of Veteran enrollee population reside along a largely urban corridor that runs from Springfield, Massachusetts, down through Hartford, Connecticut, and on to the Greater New Haven, Connecticut, area.”

The market strategy for the western Massachusetts region includes:

  • Provide equitable access to outpatient care through modern facilities close to where
    Veterans live and through the integration of virtual care;
  • Enhance VA’s unique strengths in caring for Veterans with complex needs;
  • Provide equitable access to quality inpatient medical and surgical care through the optimized
    use of care delivered in VA facilities and through partnerships, community providers, and
    virtual care.

The proposed plan to meet this strategy is to:

  • Relocate CLC, RRTP, and outpatient services currently provided at the Central Western
    Massachusetts VAMC to current or future VA facilities and discontinuing those services at the
    Central Western Massachusetts VAMC;
  • Establishing a strategic collaboration to provide inpatient mental health services and
    discontinuing those services at the Central Western Massachusetts VAMC. If unable to enter
    into a strategic collaboration, utilize community providers;
  • Relocating urgent care services to community providers and discontinuing those services at
    the Central Western Massachusetts VAMC;
  • Closing the Central Western Massachusetts VAMC: Distributing services to more modern and
    conveniently located facilities for Veterans will allow for closure of the existing VAMC;
  • Relocating the Springfield MS CBOC to a new site in the vicinity of Springfield, Massachusetts,
    and closing the existing Springfield MS CBOC.

The Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission (AIR) provides recommendations that are just that, recommendations. Before any plans are set in place there are multiple processes for moving forward, including Commission, Presidential, and Congressional approval, and input from VA medical providers, veterans, and support organizations. It could be years before any changes are made. Currently, there is no plan to close the campus at Leeds, reduce services, or layoff any employees.