Senators concerned about VA's plans for closings, restructuring

Senators expressed concern Thursday that a major overhaul of the Veterans Affairs Department health care system would deprive some veterans of access to treatment, the Associated Press reported.

"There's a great deal of skepticism in the veterans' community,'' said Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., at a hearing.

But Robert Roswell, the Veterans Affairs undersecretary for health, sought to assure the panel that proposals to close, consolidate or otherwise change the mission of the department's health facilities would not disrupt the treatment of veterans. "All care provided to veterans will continue throughout this process," Roswell said.

The overhaul, initiated by Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi, aims at adjusting the department's health care system to help veterans who are older and tend to live in Sunbelt states and to use medical procedures that allow more patients to be treated on an outpatient rather than inpatient basis.

The Veterans Affairs Department treated about 4 million patients last year at its 181 major healthcare delivery locations. Under a draft plan for a 20-year transformation of those facilities, about seven hospitals would close, new hospitals would open in Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla., and other facilities would reduce or add medical missions.

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