FORT WAYNE, IN — Across the country, veterans are anxiously awaiting for the next moves by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs as it is undergoing a multi-year evaluation to determine where new facilities need to be built and old facilities need to close.
Some communities may see their hospital shut down entirely. So, what's on the mind of veterans in communities that could be impacted? What's the timeline?
A visit to Fort Wayne
As Memorial Day approaches, it's fitting to remember the lives lost. Vietnam Veteran Patrick Fraizer is remembering his friend who never made it home.
"There he is right there, Stephen C. Himes," Fraizer said as he pointed to Himes' name.
Fraizer volunteers at a Vietnam memorial wall, not in D.C., but in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It may be a replica, but it is just as powerful to see as the one in the nation's capital.
Memorial Day weekend may be about remembering the fallen, but it is also an appropriate time to check in on veterans.
In Fort Wayne, a hot topic remains the local VA hospital and a recent recommendation that it should close.
"There are too many vets in this circle that need this facility," Fraizer said.
Fraizer isn't alone.
"The VA is like a safety valve for us veterans," said Eric Johnson, a Vietnam vet and one of Frazier's friends.
Bruce Lehman, another Vietnam vet, continues to get care from the local VA for mental health, as well as for being an Agent Orange recipient.
Why the debate?
In 2018, former President Donald Trump signed the VA Mission Act, which created the Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission. It was tasked with reviewing current facilities to determine if closing some of them might be in the best interest of veterans.
Almost 70% of the VA's health care facilities were built more than 50 years ago. This spring, their first report came out, and they recommend closing 17 facilities in 12 states.
The full list includes:
- Castle Point, NY
- Manhattan, NY
- Brooklyn, NY
- Philadelphia PA
- Coatesville, PA
- Hampton, VA
- Salem, VA
- Fort Meade, SD
- Hot Springs, SD
- Leeds, MA
- Dublin, GA
- Chillicothe, OH
- Battle Creek, MI
- Alexandria, Louisiana
- Muskogee, Ok
- Livermore, CA
- Fort Wayne, IN
The VA declined an interview, but they emphasized all final decisions will be made by President Joe Biden and Congress some time in the coming years.
"The AIR Commission is an opportunity to redesign VA health care to maximize access and outcomes for current and future generations of Veterans," said Terrence Hayes, VA press secretary.
"It is important to note that any recommendations to the upcoming AIR Commission are just that, recommendations. Nothing is changing now for Veterans' access to care for VA employees.
"Any potential changes to VA’s health care infrastructure may be several years away and are dependent on Commission, Presidential, and Congressional decisions, as well as robust stakeholder engagement and planning.
"In the long run, AIR recommendations could impact VHA facilities and staff, but it’s too early to know exactly what or where those impacts might be. VA will remain in all of our health care markets."
As for Fraizer, he just hopes the right decisions are made. Driving to a facility in Indianapolis is just too far, and he is battling liver cancer and congestive heart failure.
"For people to get in a car and drive down to Indianapolis, that would be a burden," Frazier said. "That is five hours just for the drive."