U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC), along with SVAC Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) today released the following joint statement announcing their collective opposition to the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission process moving forward in the Senate.
The statement, led by Chairman Tester, Senators Manchin and Rounds signifies the end of the AIR Commission. This announcement stops the recommended reduction in services at VA facilities in Hot Springs, Sioux Falls, Sturgis and Wagner.
“As Senators, we share a commitment to expanding and strengthening modern VA infrastructure in a way that upholds our obligations to America’s veterans. We believe the recommendations put forth to the AIR Commission are not reflective of that goal, and would put veterans in both rural and urban areas at a disadvantage, which is why we are announcing that this process does not have our support and will not move forward. The Commission is not necessary for our continued push to invest in VA health infrastructure, and together we remain dedicated to providing the Department with the resources and tools it needs to continue delivering quality care and earned services to veterans in 21stcentury facilities—now and into the future.”
- In 2018, Congress passed the Asset and Infrastructure Review Act as part of the VA MISSION Act.
- The VA MISSION Act established a new process for the development, review, approval and implementation of a list of recommendations for the modernization and realignment of VHA medical facilities. The VA MISSION Act requires the VA Secretary to develop an initial list of recommendations, including the acquisition of new space, the modernization of existing space and the disposal of unneeded space. The Secretary was required to publish these recommendations in the Federal Register by January 31, 2022.
- The VA MISSION Act also established an AIR Commission, a panel comprised of nine members nominated by the president and approved by the Senate, which is meant to review the recommendations submitted by the VA Secretary.
- However, the panel does not yet exist as all of the nominees have yet to be confirmed by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and voted on by the full Senate.
- Without the Senate’s approval of the nominees, no Commission will be established and the process as outlined by the VA MISSION Act will not move forward.
For additional background, in May, Thune and Rounds introduced legislation that would eliminate the commission that is tasked with identifying facilities that should be consolidated or realigned and protect the several VA facilities across South Dakota that have been designated.
The delegation’s decade-long fight to save the Hot Springs VA culminated in October 2020 when then-VA Secretary Robert Wilkie notified them that the VA had formally rescinded its earlier record of decision to realign the VA Black Hills Health Care System, which would have significantly reduced services at the Hot Springs VA medical center.