May 24, 2022

Manchin, Rounds, Heinrich, Capito Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to Eliminate the VA AIR Commission

Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) reintroduced the Elimination of the VA Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission Act which would eliminate the commission that is tasked with finding VA facilities that should be consolidated or realigned.

“Our Veterans have put their lives on the line to protect our nation and deserve easy access to the healthcare they have earned,” said Senator Manchin. “The VA’s recommendations to the AIR Commission are skewed against rural states like West Virginia, which would see a reduction in services at three of our four VA Medical Centers (VAMCs). I’m proud to reintroduce this bipartisan legislation to ensure our brave Veterans don’t lose access to the healthcare they earned and sacrificed for and I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join this critical legislation.”

“The VA MISSION Act and its BRAC-style process called the AIR Commission were bad public policy when I voted against them in 2018, and they have not improved with age,” said Senator Rounds. “This legislation threatens to close or eliminate services at VA facilities across South Dakota and the nation. The AIR Commission should be called the ERROR Commission. Senator Manchin and I first introduced common sense legislation to eliminate this commission in 2019. Now that the consequences of the VA MISSION Act are being widely experienced, more members are joining our efforts to stop it. I will continue working to make certain veterans in South Dakota receive the care they have earned.”

“I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation to avoid shutting down veterans’ clinics in New Mexico,” said Senator Heinrich. “Closing down community-based outpatient clinics that New Mexico veterans rely on is not an option. This process has relied on pre-pandemic data that doesn’t accurately reflect the current realities of veterans in our state, including access to broadband, health care provider shortages, and having nowhere else to turn to for medical services in rural New Mexico. We need to gear our focus towards improving access to the quality care and benefits that our veterans earned through their service.”

“West Virginia’s veterans deserve the very best care possible,” Senator Capito said. “Instead of increasing access to health services, the AIR Commission recommendations would reduce options for those who served our country. Not only have I heard from countless veterans in West Virginia who are rightly concerned that they will have more difficulty getting the care they need, I’ve heard from our local leaders and providers that they may not be able to accommodate the changes being proposed. I’m proud to continue standing up for our veterans and helping lead the bipartisan effort to ensure these recommendations do not take effect.”

The Senators were also joined by Senators Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), John Thune (R-SD), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH).

Background on the AIR Commission:

  • In 2018, Congress passed the Asset and Infrastructure Review Act as part of the VA MISSION Act.
  • Senators Rounds and Manchin introduced legislation in 2019 which would have eliminated the AIR Commission.
  • The VA MISSION Act established a new process for the development, review, approval and implementation of a list of recommendations for the modernization and realignment of VHA medical facilities. The VA MISSION Act requires the VA Secretary to develop an initial list of recommendations, including the acquisition of new space, the modernization of existing space and the disposal of unneeded space. The Secretary was required to publish these recommendations in the Federal Register by January 31, 2022.
  • The VA MISSION Act also established an AIR Commission, a panel comprised of nine members nominated by the president and approved by the Senate, which is meant to review the recommendations submitted by the VA Secretary.
  • However, the panel does not yet exist as all of the nominees have yet to be assessed by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and voted on by full Senate.
  • Once it is stood up and receives the department’s recommendations, the Commission will conduct its own hearings and investigations, make its own recommendations and send the recommendations to the White House.
  • The AIR Commission is required to submit a final list of recommendations to the president by January 31, 2023.
  • The President is to notify the Commission and Congress if he approves or disapproves the list by February 15, 2023. If disapproved, the Commission may revise the recommendations and submit a new list by March 15, 2023.
  • The President has until March 30, 2023, to approve the Commission’s initial or revised recommendations in their entirety and submit them to Congress, or the modernization and realignment process terminates.
  • If the President approves the recommendations, Congress has 45 days from the date of approval to terminate the process by enacting a joint resolution of disapproval. If Congress does not enact a joint resolution of disapproval, the VA is required to implement the recommendations.