BRADLEY WORKS TO KEEP EMERGENCY ROOM OPEN AT MANCHESTER VA MEDICAL CENTER
Meets with VA official to express his serious concerns with proposal to reduce ER hours
(Manchester, NH) - Yesterday, First District Congressman Jeb Bradley met with Dr. Jeannette Chirico-Post, the Network Director of the VA New England Health System (VISN 1), as well as representatives of New Hampshire veterans organizations about the Department of Veterans Affairs' proposal to reduce emergency room hours at the Manchester VA Medical Center. The proposal would close the emergency room at the Manchester VA Medical Center between the hours of 10 PM and 6 AM and possibly on the weekends in an effort to save operating costs.
Local veterans' service organizations brought the issue to Bradley's attention last fall, and Bradley has written to the Department of Veterans Affairs twice expressing his opposition to the proposal. During yesterday's meeting, it was revealed for the first time that the proposal to reduce ER hours is not limited to New Hampshire or the rest of New England, but is part of a national proposal to curtail emergency room hours across the country.
"When faced with a health emergency, the last thing I want a veteran to worry about is how he or she is going to pay for care at a private facility," said Bradley, a member of the House Veterans' Affairs and Armed Services Committees. "There has been no opportunity for public or Congressional input on this proposal, which is far broader than I thought and may be implemented with no local discretion. I am asking Secretary Nicholson to halt this proposal until a number of criteria and alternatives have been investigated. It is critically important that every veteran has access to care, especially in the direst of circumstances."
Paul Chevalier, Past Commander of New Hampshire Veterans of Foreign Wars, stated, "New Hampshire veterans' leaders were under the impression that this was solely a local issue. Thanks to Congressman Bradley, we now understand that this is a national proposal that impacts veterans across the country. There is no question that if Congressman Bradley did not hold the meeting yesterday, the veteran community would still be in the dark."
Bradley sent the following letter to VA Secretary James Nicholson regarding the VA's proposal and yesterday's meeting:
March 28, 2006
The Honorable James Nicholson
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20420
Dear Secretary Nicholson:
I am once more contacting your office with regard to the imminent reduction in the hours of operation at the Manchester VA Medical Center Emergency Room. Please see the enclosed letters I have previously written. I once again want to reiterate that veterans in New Hampshire have serious concerns with this proposal. As a member of the House Armed Services and Veterans' Affairs Committees, I intend to raise this issue with my colleagues as soon as possible.
Last November, at a veterans roundtable that I hold on a regular basis, Manchester VA Medical Center Director Dr. Marc Levenson mentioned that curtailing the hours of operation at the Manchester Emergency Room was under consideration. Since November, I have received countless communications from veterans in strong opposition to this proposal, which resulted in my letters to your department (please see enclosures). Since my office had not received a formal response to my two letters, I requested a meeting yesterday with VISN 1 Director Dr. Jeannette Chirico-Post, Dr. Levenson and leaders of New Hampshire's veterans community. During this meeting, it was brought to my attention that this proposal is not just confined to VISN 1, but may in fact be a new national policy that is apparently in the developmental phase and will be implemented in the near future. I, along with all of the leaders of various veterans' organizations present at that meeting, were extremely surprised to learn that this potential policy change was not confined to VISN 1 as we all believed, but could be far broader, and most alarmingly, implemented without any flexibility or discretion by the VISNs. In my judgment, before any preliminary or final determinations are made on this proposal, it needs to be carefully examined to ensure that there is ample input from Congress and the public. Any adverse impacts on the veteran community need to be fully vetted and alleviated to ensure the health of veterans will not be jeopardized.
I implore you to develop and strongly consider sufficient alternatives, particularly for those veterans who are not on Medicare or are not eligible for the Veterans Millennium Healthcare and Benefits Act. When faced with a dire medical emergency, the last thing a veteran and his or her family should be considering is the potential out-of-pocket costs incurred from visiting a private medical facility. The health and safety of the veteran should be the primary concern. Before implementing this policy, it is critical to sort out who has responsibility for payment of emergency care received by a veteran from a non-VA facility. In my view, it is wholly inappropriate that a veteran gets stuck with what could be a very significant bill for emergency services rendered at non-VA facilities.
Before proceeding any further with this proposal, I believe further analysis should be conducted and sufficient alternatives developed. Without proper analysis and oversight hearings conducted by the House and Senate committees of jurisdiction, I fear that the veteran community will be put in grave jeopardy, not only in New Hampshire, but across the nation. It is because of the serious nature of this issue that I request an immediate response and cessation of this proposal. I look forward to hearing from you as quickly as possible on this important issue. Thank you for your consideration.
Member of Congress