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Manchin and other senators are opposed to plans to overhaul VA health care

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The Department of Veterans Affairs could overhaul its health care system. Some of its new recommendations include shutting down some services at facilities used by many of the nation's veterans and outsourcing care to private providers. The proposals haven't been widely well-received. As NPR's Dave Mistich reports, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and a group of bipartisan lawmakers are hoping to keep those changes from going into effect.

DAVE MISTICH, BYLINE: Earlier this year, the VA released a report calling for sweeping changes to its health care facilities across the nation. As part of the recommendations, three of West Virginia's four VA medical centers would see a reduction in services, including emergency care and surgeries. Other rural states would be similarly affected, forcing some vets to travel long distances. In 2018, Congress passed legislation calling for an audit of VA facilities. Senator Joe Manchin and others say the recommended changes that came out of that audit ignore the realities most veterans face.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE MANCHIN: The recommendations have been based on faulty data taken during a pandemic. Anything that came out of that pandemic - people were not in the right frame of mind. And that's not giving our veterans a fair shake when you're doing it in the most trying times and saying, what do you think about this, this or this?

MISTICH: That's Manchin at a town hall event this week speaking to veterans. He and a group of bipartisan senators have introduced a bill that would wipe out the commission that is supposed to oversee these proposed changes. That panel is known as AIR, For some time, Manchin and other lawmakers have worried rural veterans would pay the biggest cost.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MANCHIN: Now that we finally have the VA recommendations to the AIR Commission, turns out that we were right.

MISTICH: Jack Gerrard is a Vietnam vet from Clarksburg, W.Va. He says he's concerned about job losses at VA facilities, as well as travel times and, most importantly, just getting access to the care he and his fellow vets need.

JACK GERRARD: If we let this happen now, who knows what they're going to cut down the road?

MISTICH: Like Gerrard, Manchin says he's worried about private health care providers being equipped to handle the specialized care veterans require.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MANCHIN: I don't know how they think by closing any of our facilities, that the hospitals and clinics are going to be able to take care of our veterans. And they don't have that experience.

MISTICH: Although the AIR Commission has yet to be fully seated, Manchin says he's committed to getting rid of it before it has an opportunity to implement the recommendations. For NPR News, I'm Dave Mistich in Clarksburg, W.Va.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRAD MEHIDAU'S "HIGHWAY RIDER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.