Veteran services

Heinrich, Luján oppose VA recommendation that could hurt veterans services in rural New Mexico

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (DN.M.) and Ben Ray Luján (DN.M.) oppose recommendations the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provided to the Assets and infrastructure (AIR), which could impact the delivery of health care services in community outpatient clinics (CBOCs) in Gallup, Las Vegas, Española and Raton.

In a letter to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough, the senators wrote that the recommendations “do not fully take into account the projected demand from veterans, the inadequacy of the community care network and the lack of access to telehealth services.

New Mexico veterans have unique and dynamic needs and demographics. New Mexico has the 9th largest percentage of veterans by state population that is not concentrated in an urban area, but rather dispersed across the 5th largest geographic state in the nation. Nearly half of New Mexico’s veterans are over the age of 65, and because of service-related illnesses and disabilities, many struggle to travel long distances to seek medical attention.

The senators express that the AIR Commission did not consider critical data from New Mexico in making its recommendations, relying on data that “continues to underestimate the severe healthcare shortages in New Mexico and the exacerbating effects of COVID-19 on the healthcare market.

The senators also demand that the “VA cannot and should not close CBOCs in New Mexico where there is no adequate community care networknoting that there is no adequate community care network to absorb veterans who will lose access to integrated VA services in affected CBOCs.

Let’s also be clear: telehealth services are not a viable substitute for care in CBOCs.added the senators.

New Mexico has the highest percentage of residents in the Southwestern United States without adequate broadband Internet service. Many veterans have limited technological knowledge, are elderly, or do not have access to a computer, phone, or laptop. The senators find that it is “it is inappropriate to expect these veterans to have to bear the cost of purchasing these electronic and internet services, all in order to access the healthcare services they have more than earned through their sacrifice for our country.

Senators Heinrich and Luján urge the VA to consult with Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), medical providers and communities in northern New Mexico to fully understand the impact of these recommended changes. The senators also request that the VA conduct in-person listening sessions and reassess the data on which to draw to arrive at the current recommendations, including reassessing and collecting data on relevant community care networks and realities. access to telehealth.

The recommendations of the AIR Commission are the first step in a multi-year process. They may include renovations, construction of new facilities, relocation, closure of facilities and modification of services offered. The President has just appointed people for the AIR Committee, all of which will require Senate confirmation. By law, all VA proposals must be considered by the Commission, the President and Congress.

Read the full letter below or by clicking here.

Dear Secretary McDonough,

Our veterans deserve the highest quality health care and it is the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that is charged with keeping that promise. How it does this is guided, in part, by your recommendations to the Asset and Infrastructure Review Board (AIR), which is tasked with VA facility upgrade actions over the next year. This process will shape how veterans will receive care for decades to come and it is critical that we get it right. Unfortunately, the process failed, failed to consider critical data, and if left unattended, will result in disservice to veterans living in New Mexico.

We oppose the AIR Commission’s recommendation to close four Community Ambulatory Clinics (CBOCs) and adjust services at several VA facilities in New Mexico. The Commission’s recommendations were based on assessments that did not fully take into account the projected demand from veterans, the inadequacy of the community care network, and the lack of access to telehealth services. This is of great concern, as the integrity and quality of care for New Mexico veterans and their families is directly at risk.

New Mexico veterans have unique and dynamic needs and demographics. New Mexico has the 9th highest percentage of veterans by population in the state. This veteran population is not concentrated in one urban area, but rather dispersed across the 5th largest geographic state in the country. Among New Mexico veterans, 30% identify as Hispanic and a growing number are women. Additionally, nearly half of New Mexico’s veterans are over the age of 65, and due to service-related illnesses and disabilities, many struggle to travel long distances for treatment.

Our state faces one of the worst health care shortages in the United States. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) classifies 32 of New Mexico’s 33 counties as full or partial primary care health professional shortage areas (HPSAs). Additionally, the majority of counties in New Mexico are classified as Medically Underserved Areas (MUAs). This is a direct result of our lack of community care networks and adequate health care providers. According to recent data from the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, New Mexico needs a minimum of 6,223 additional nurses for each county to meet the national benchmark. Without redistributing the current workforce, New Mexico would need 328 primary care physicians, 117 psychiatrists, 238 nurse practitioners, 249 physician assistants, 90 dentists, and 2,510 paramedics and paramedics, in order to meet national standards. health care staffing. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated healthcare shortages in New Mexico, where providers are moving away from direct patient care due to high levels of stress and burnout.

The AIR Commission did not consider any of the above data in formulating its recommendations. Instead, he relied on flawed and limited assessments based on data compiled from December 2018 to November 2020. These data continue to underestimate the severe health care shortages in New Mexico and the exacerbating effects of COVID-19 in the healthcare market. The projected demand also did not take full account of the expanded eligibility for community care. The VA cannot and should not shut down CBOCs in New Mexico where there is no adequate community care network. We strongly believe that there is no adequate community care network to absorb the many veterans who will lose access to integrated VA services in affected CBOCs.

Let’s also be clear: telehealth services are not a viable substitute for care in CBOCs. New Mexico has the highest percentage of residents in the Southwestern United States without adequate broadband Internet service. According to the White House, 22% of New Mexicans do not have access to adequate broadband infrastructure and nearly 70% must rely on a single Internet service provider. Without access to reliable broadband, the use of telehealth services is not a realistic replacement option for veterans should these CBOCs close. Additionally, many veterans have limited technological knowledge, are elderly, or do not have access to a computer, phone, or laptop. It is inappropriate to expect these veterans to bear the cost of purchasing these electronic and Internet services, all in order to access the health care services that they have more than earned through their sacrifice for our country.

We understand that this is the beginning of a long process by the Department to determine which facilities will ultimately be proposed for closure. We believe the proposed closures would harm the service veterans receive and put a strain on other VA clinics and local providers in rural New Mexico. Over the coming months, we urge the Department to seek input from Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), medical providers, and communities in northern New Mexico to fully understand the impact of these changes. recommended. We also urge the VA to hold in-person listening sessions and reassess the data on which to draw to arrive at the current recommendations, including reassessing and collecting data on relevant community care networks and realities. access to telehealth.

We owe veterans a tremendous debt of gratitude and are committed to ensuring New Mexico veterans receive the health care services they have earned.

Sincerely,