VA may close more than 1,100 facilities to privatize more medical care

The Department of Veterans Affairs may close as many as 1,165 facilities nationwide as part of plans to move more medical care to the private sector.

The facilities include 430 vacant buildings and 735 that are underutilized, according to Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin during a hearing before the House Appropriations Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Wednesday. These facilities cost the government $25 million a year, the Associated Press reported.

Shulkin said he plans to work with Congress to prioritize which buildings to close.

During his confirmation hearing in February, Shulkin told a Senate committee the “Department of Veterans Affairs will not be privatized under my watch,” but indicated he was willing to expand private-care partnerships with VA hospitals in order to avoid building costly new medical centers.

The move to privatize care began in 2014 when news broke that VA facilities across the country used secret lists to cover up long wait times for care. In response, Congress took action to allow veterans who faced long wait times for care or had to travel a long distance to receive care at a VA facility to seek private care.

Last month President Donald Trump signed a bill to temporarily extend the Choice Program to allow veterans to seek medical care from private doctors and hospitals. And last week Shulkin told the AP that he planned to present a broader proposal by the fall to expand the VA's Choice program of private-sector care.

Meanwhile, Shulkin didn’t reveal his plans during Wednesday’s hearing whether the VA will keep the VisTA electronic health record system or replace it with a commercial solution. Shulkin has set a July 1 deadline to determine the fate of VistA but has repeatedly said the VA needs to get out of the business of software development. 

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