Only eight months remain for the Veterans Affairs Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission to complete its report on the destiny of hundreds of VA hospitals and clinics around the country. These recommendations could transform veterans' care in America for decades.
However, they have yet to begin their task.
Congress passed legislation in 2018 that required the panel to begin meetings and site inspections in February to determine where new VA medical centers should be located and where existing VA medical centers should be closed.
That won't be possible until the commission's nine members have been selected and confirmed. The White House announced eight of them in early March, including former Pennsylvania Representative Patrick Murphy, who will be chairman.
The ninth position is still up for grabs.
Legislators and veterans groups are concerned that the panel will not have the time to review the massive amount of market data, operational department files, and site interviews required to determine how to best deploy VA health care assets for years to come.
If the commission's job isn't completed on schedule, dozens of VA medical centers could close, dozens more could be built, or nothing at all could happen.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough acknowledged the frustration over the delays, saying his department is doing everything possible to prepare information for the group as soon as it is constituted.
Union representatives slammed the plans almost once, citing concerns about delays in patient care and staffing shortages. Conservative supporters were also dissatisfied, pointing out that the evaluation was established to close more sites and allow veterans to seek more private-sector care.
McDonough's list is expected to be severely revised by the panel, which the secretary said he would appreciate. Senior VA officials have expressed worries that the evaluation, which Congress mandated, was based on obsolete information about healthcare alternatives in areas around the country, which had altered substantially due to the coronavirus outbreak.
For the time being, the commission's review work isn't taking place behind closed doors. Senators and Veterans Affairs officials are unsure when the final nomination will be announced.