Rounds seeks to streamline VA operations, save department’s rural hospitals

U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) on March 25 introduced bipartisan legislation that would eliminate the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), a body that he says threatens rural VA hospitals around the country.

The AIR Commission is tasked with finding facilities that should be consolidated or realigned.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs is long overdue for reforms and I support VA Secretary Wilkie’s efforts to streamline processes to reduce the red tape veterans have to go through,” Sen. Rounds said on Wednesday. “However, I do not support the creation of a ‘BRAC-like’ commission that seeks out facilities to close down — with no input from Congress.”

Sen. Rounds is the original cosponsor of the Elimination of the VA Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission Act of 2019, S. 853, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). The bill would amend the John S. McCain III, Daniel K. Akaka, and Samuel R. Johnson VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (VA MISSION) Act of 2018 to eliminate the AIR Commission, according to the congressional record.

Sen. Rounds said S. 853 is critical to protect rural healthcare, which is essential to many South Dakotans in his home state. Without S. 853, the AIR Act — which originally passed into law as a part of the VA MISSION Act of 2018 — would create a nine-member commission to conduct a comprehensive review of VA facilities and identify where investments should be made and which facilities should be consolidated, realigned, exchanged, out leased, replaced, sold or disposed, according to the senator’s statement. 

In fact, that’s why Sen. Rounds said he “voted against the VA MISSION Act in the first place,” a bill that consolidates VA community care programs, revises other VA health care programs and facilities provisions, and makes appropriations for veterans care, among other items, according to the congressional record.

“In South Dakota, many of our veterans live in rural areas and the facilities they go to need to be improved, not closed down entirely,” said Sen. Rounds, who wants to protect VA facilities like the one in Hot Springs, S.D.

“I’m pleased to partner with Sen. Manchin on this issue and I look forward to working with our colleagues in the Senate and our state’s veterans and Veteran Service Organizations to move it forward,” he added. 

S. 853 has been referred to the U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee for consideration.