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Veterans Affairs Proposes Health System Overhaul

Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 11, 2003 – The Department of Veterans Affairs is asking an independent commission to review a plan devised to reshape the way the department handles veterans' health care.

The draft plan stems from a VA study called Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services, or CARES. VA Secretary Anthony J. Principi presented the draft national CARES plan to the CARES Commission here Aug. 4. The commission will review the plan and conduct hearings before presenting its report to Principi for a final decision, which is expected by the end of the year.

"VA's mission to provide quality health care for America's veterans has not changed since its inception," said Dr. Robert H. Roswell, VA's undersecretary for health. "But how that job is done at what kind of facilities, where they are located and which types of procedures are used has seen dynamic change as a result of medical advances, modern health care trends, veteran migration and other factors."

VA officials said a July 1999 General Accounting Office study found the department was spending a million dollars a day on unneeded or unused facilities, so CARES was developed to identify an infrastructure that would better serve veterans' health-care needs in the 21st century.

Principi said those infrastructure changes "may come with difficult choices."

"As VA enters the process of making these choices in communities across the country, it is important to remember the broad outcomes it seeks more effective use of VA resources to provide more care to more veterans in places where veterans need it the most," the secretary said.

Among changes the plan proposes:

  • Closing VA hospitals in Canandaigua, N.Y.; Pittsburgh (Highland Drive); Lexington, Ky. (Leestown); Brecksville, Ohio; Gulfport, Miss.; Livermore, Calif.; and Waco, Texas.

  • Opening new hospitals in Las Vegas and in Orlando, Fla.

  • Adding centers for the blind in Biloxi, Miss., and Long Beach, Calif.

  • Creating new spinal-cord injury centers in Denver; Minneapolis; Syracuse or Albany, N.Y.; and Little Rock, Ark.

The first commission hearing on the plan is scheduled Aug. 12, according to the CARES Web site.

(Based on a VA release.)

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