U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden said today he has secured commitments from top Veterans Administration (VA) officials for multiple town hall meetings with Eastern Oregon veterans concerned about agency proposals to reduce physical and mental health services at the Veterans Administration Medical Center (VAMC) in Walla Walla.
That commitment for three town hall meetings follows a letter Wyden wrote the VA this week about its “hasty and dangerous” proposals to reduce care in Eastern Oregon by recommending the Walla Walla VAMC be reclassified to a community-based outpatient clinic and moving its 31-bed residential rehabilitation treatment program 180 miles north of Walla Walla to Spokane.
“I have been hearing throughout Eastern Oregon from veterans that the physical and mental health services at the Walla Walla VAMC are critical to their wellbeing,” Wyden wrote, citing concerns he heard from veterans at his own recent town hall meetings in Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties. “Simply put, they have well-founded fears that the proposed facility downgrade will reduce the access to vital services they’ve earned.”
In his letter to Dr. Teresa Boyd, of the VA Northwest Health Network Office and Walla Walla VAMC Director Scott Kelter, Wyden noted that Eastern Oregon veterans are in a particularly precarious position because they have no other in-state VA resources within 200 miles – aside from the community-based outpatient clinic in La Grande and a few telehealth clinics.
“Eastern Oregon veterans report that, while they greatly appreciate their VA health care and the staff, they worry about a lack of support and investment for their clinics, delays in travel reimbursement and much needed referrals,” he wrote, also noting veterans’ frustration with how the failed rollout of the agency’s electronic health record system has hurt their delivery of care.
In addition to the letter, Wyden also followed up this week with VA officials by phone.
“I’m glad the VA has responded to my call for veterans in Eastern Oregon to have direct conversations with the VA and get substantive answers to their questions,” Wyden said Thursday. “Discussions just like these are how I heard firsthand from veterans in my own town halls about these troubling VA proposals, and why I’ve held more than 1,000 town halls throughout Oregon. Public service means being accountable, and I’m all in with being part of these town halls for veterans in Eastern Oregon and making sure they receive the healthcare they earned with their service to our country.”
Wyden’s office said dates, formats and times for the three veterans town halls will be announced soon.