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Washington, D.C. –U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., worked with Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and others recently to ensure that veterans' concerns about possible changes to Veteran Administration health facilities are heard and addressed.

An agreement between Enzi, Clinton, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate appropriators would add language to the conference report on the Veterans Administration (VA) appropriations bill urging that no closures or reduction in long-term care, home care, and mental health care services take place until a full analysis is completed. The language would also require the VA to submit updates on their progress in this analysis to the appropriate committees. Finally, the appropriation bill managers have agreed to send a letter to VA Secretary Anthony Principi outlining these concerns.

The exchange entered in the Senate record today between Enzi, Clinton, Schumer and Sens. Kit Bond R-Mo., Barbara Mikulski D-Md., the respective chairman and ranking member of the VA Appropriations Subcommittee, solidifies the agreement.

The VA Appropriations bill is being debated this week in the Senate.

From the Senate Record November 17, 2003

COLLOQUY ON
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
CAPITAL ASSET REALIGNMENT FOR ENHANCED SERVICES (CARES) INITIATIVE



MRS. CLINTON: I thank the managers for working with Senator Enzi, Senator Schumer and myself on a compromise to ensure that our concerns are addressed. We understand that you have committed to pursue language in the Conference Report that expresses the Committee's concerns about the Draft National CARES Plan recommendations of closure and reduction of services in long-term care, domiciliary care, and mental health services at VA facilities. And the language would urge that no closures or reduction in long-term care, domiciliary care, and mental health care services take place until the full analysis is completed. The language would also require the VA to submit updates on their progress in this analysis to the appropriate committees. Finally, the Managers have agreed to send a letter to VA Secretary Principi outlining these concerns on our behalf.

MR. ENZI: I would like to add to my colleague's discussion. I got involved in this process to bring attention to the concerns of veterans in rural and frontier areas. Based on these concerns, I hope in any further analysis on the future needs of veterans health care the VA will consider all access issues related to travel, such as road conditions, the number of lanes on roads, and seasonal changes and other factors relating to the weather. I know many of my colleagues share these concerns and I appreciate their taking this opportunity to address them.

MR. SCHUMER: I thank my friends from Missouri and Maryland for engaging us in this colloquy, and appreciate their efforts to work with us on addressing our concerns with the CARES process. Among these concerns, I am particularly pleased that the managers of this bill have agreed to work with us in addressing the participation of veterans at hearings held by the CARES Commission. The participation of veterans is critical to a process that so directly impacts the quality of healthcare they receive from the VA. It is my understanding that the managers have committed to addressing this specific issue by presenting language to the conference that would recognize the benefits of and the need to have CARES related hearings within 30 miles of all facilities facing closure or a reduction in services, as well as the importance of veteran participation at these hearings. I also understand that the managers have committed to presenting language to the conference that encourages the VA to hold additional hearings in all affected communities following the Secretary's final recommendation.

MR. BOND: I thank the Senators from New York and Senator from Wyoming for their thoughtful comments. Their understanding is correct and we will pursue such language in the conference report. Senator Mikulski and I will also be sending a letter on their behalf to Secretary Principi with these concerns.

MRS. MIKULSKI: I acknowledge the validity of my colleagues' concerns and look forward to working with them to try to address these concerns in conference and with Secretary Principi.