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Salisbury Post - Watt Hopeful Changes at VA Medical Center Still On Hold

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Salisbury Post - Watt Hopeful Changes at VA Medical Center Still On Hold

Concerns and rumors continue to swirl around proposed changes at the Hefner VA Medical Center.

U.S. Rep. Mel Watt said Wednesday that he continues to hear rumors that changes are being made at the center despite a pledge by Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake to hold off until the federal agency completes a thorough review of the proposed changes.

Many local veterans claim they were ambushed Sept. 19 with the announcement the hospital will eliminate inpatient, emergency and surgical services and transition to a long-term and mental-health facility for veterans.

VA officials maintain veterans will continue receiving the eliminated services through contracts with local hospitals, which they say can provide the same quality care as the VA Medical Center.

The review ordered by Peake is scheduled to be completed by Saturday.

A story in Tuesday's Post cited a letter from Sen. Richard Burr that said the report was due Wednesday. A Burr staff member contacted the Post Wednesday to say the date in the letter to Rodney Cress was a typographical error.

While the review continues, Watt said that he expects Peake to keep his word.

"I have a letter (from Peake) in the file that they are not going to proceed with any aspect" of the changes, Watt said.

"If somebody brings me concrete evidence that they are not honoring it, I would try to deal with it," Watt said.

Local veterans have cited changes already occurring as evidence, including cancellation of appointments.

Zane Robertson, a Navy veteran who organized a picket at the Hefner VA Medical Center last Friday, said despite assurances from Washington, the effort to eliminate the services continues.

Robertson said last week that Carolyn Adams, director of the VA Medical Center, "wants to have (the changes) done by Dec. 1, and it'' supposed to be on hold."

Watt said he doesn't expect quick action by Peake once the report is completed.

Instead, he expects a review process that could delay the final decision until after President-elect Barack Obama's administration begins Jan. 20.

"I don't know why this administration would try to implement something of this magnitude this late in the administration," Watt said of the Bush administration.

Though he allowed officials in the current administration "have the right" to make such decisions, "This one seems to have stirred up a big controversy about something they could have avoided — or at least kicked it over to the next administration."

Watt added that it's possible Peake will review the report and decide to reverse the changes."Hope springs eternal," he said.

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