Glasgow Courier: Daines and Tester Put Stop To Closure of Glasgow VA

by Michelle Bigelbach

Twelve U.S. Senators, including Montana’s Jon Tester (D) and Steve Daines (R) released a statement at the end of June vowing not to approve any members to the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission that was set to consider recommendations to changes to VA health care facilities. By not approving any members to the Commission, the process is stopped from moving forward.

“As Senators, we share a commitment to expanding and strengthening modern VA infrastructure in a way that upholds our obligations to America’s veterans,” the statement said. “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 21st-century facilities – now and into the future.”

In 2018, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law the VA Mission Act, which among its many provisions, required the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to research, develop and publish a list of recommendations intended to modernize VA medical facilities and health care delivery, including through facility expansions, relocations, closures or changes in services.

The VA released the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) report on March 14. The VA was required by law under the VA Mission Act of 2018 to conduct a series of market assessments to examine future demand for health care services among the veteran population. The Montana market is one of the largest VA markets geographically and is highly rural with the veteran population dispersed throughout the state. In Montana, the report recommended closing four VA locations: the rural clinics in Glasgow, Browning and Plentywood as well as the Miles City Community Living Center, a nursing home. While veterans and advocacy groups raised concerns about the proposals, Montana VA leaders stressed they were only recommendations.

The VA Mission Act further directed those recommendations to be reviewed by a presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed Commission, which would then report its views of the recommendations to the President who could end the process or present recommendations to Congress for a vote. The AIR Commission was set to begin reviewing all of the proposals this year, then making its own recommendations to President Joe Biden. Biden named his nominees to the commission but they also need the approval of the Senate. If the Senate doesn’t confirm, then the process and the recommendations can not move forward.

Commander of VFW Post 3107 in Glasgow Art Widhalm received a call from both Senator Tester and Senator Daines’ office upon the announcement to notify him of the blocking of the AIR Committee. “This pretty well put the closure of our VA clinic, as well as Plentywood and Browning to rest. Good news for local veterans!” he told the Courier.

Mike Waters, Senator Daines representative for eastern Montana, will be at the VFW Thursday, July 21, at 2 p.m. to visit with veterans. He is a retired USAF veteran and currently lives in Billings but was raised on a farm in Ritchie Mont., so understands eastern Montana issues. Waters will be visiting with veterans to take any issues they may have to the Senator.