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The Berlin Sun: Plan dropped to close Littleton, Conway VA clinics

The Berlin Sun: Plan dropped to close Littleton, Conway VA clinics
WASHINGTON —Members of New Hampshire’s Congressional Delegation lauded the end of a Veterans Affairs plan that called for closing its community-based outpatient clinics in Littleton and Conway, leaving no clinic in northern New Hampshire. 

Many veterans in Coos County get medical services at the Littleton outpatient clinic. The plan, released in March, called for closing both the Littleton and Newport, Vt., outpatient clinics and transferring their services to a new multi-specialty outpatient clinic that would be built adjacent to I-91 in St. Johnsbury, Vt. The plan also called for closing the clinic in Conway.

Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said in her release that she worked with a bipartisan group of her colleagues including Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) to end the Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission process that threatened New Hampshire veterans’ care.

U.S. Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.) said she was pleased at the announcement.

“I pushed to keep the VA clinics in Littleton and Conway open because veterans throughout New Hampshire — including our rural communities — must be able to access the care and services they need. Today’s announcement that they will remain open is a win for New Hampshire veterans,” Kuster said in a written release.

Kuster said she called Secretary of Veteran Affairs Denis McDonough when the plan was announced in March to raise her objection. 

“The recommended closure of the Littleton, N.H., and Conway, N.H., CBOCs (Community Based Outreach Clinics) would leave a tremendous geographical gap in access to care for veterans who live in New Hampshire’s North Country,” she wrote.

U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) also praised the news. He noted that New Hampshire has more than 93,000 veterans, making up about 10 percent of the population, but the VA only has nine facilities located in the state, including the Manchester VA Medical Center and Community Based Outpatient Clinics in Conway, Portsmouth, Littleton, Somersworth and Tilton.

Hassan said she has consistently pushed back on recommendations to this commission, which included closing VA clinics in Littleton and Conway, and moving outpatient surgical care from the Manchester VA Medical Center to community providers. 

 “As senators, we share a commitment to expanding and strengthening modern VA infrastructure in a way that upholds our obligations to America’s veterans,” the senators said in a joint statement. “We believe the recommendations put forth to the AIR Commission are not reflective of that goal, and would put veterans in both rural and urban areas at a disadvantage, which is why we are announcing that this process does not have our support and will not move forward. The commission is not necessary for our continued push to invest in VA health infrastructure, and together we remain dedicated to providing the department with the resources and tools it needs to continue delivering quality care and earned services to veterans in 21st century facilities — now and into the future.”

According to the news release, the senators are ending the AIR Commission by announcing that the Senate will not approve nominees to the commission. Without the Senate’s approval of the nominees, no commission will be established and the process as outlined by the 2018 VA MISSION (Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks) Act will not move forward.

That act required the VA to undertake the Asset and Infrastructure Review initiative to study the current and future health-care needs of veterans across America, and to evaluate VA’s health-care infrastructure.

In March, the VA announced its recommendations to the AIR Commission, which included “Relocating all services at the Conway CBOC and closing the Conway CBOC.”

Overall, the plan called for closing some aging and underused medical centers, building new hospitals, and closing and opening clinics as it adjusts its facilities to meet veteran demands across the country.


Wednesday’s announcement from the senators follows Hassan’s efforts to highlight the harm that the recommendations would do to New Hampshire and her bipartisan push to end the commission. Hassan previously introduced legislation to eliminate the VA AIR Commission and pressed McDonough on the issue.

In introducing a bill to eliminate the commission in May, Hassan said: “I have been raising alarm bells on the VA’s recommendations to the AIR Commission to close clinics in Littleton and Conway, and move outpatient surgical care from Manchester to community providers. My colleagues on both sides of the aisle have been fighting back against recommendations as well. … We need to protect veterans’ access to care and ensure that we always keep our promise to support veterans after they sacrificed so much for our country.”

Hassan also led New Hampshire and Vermont senators in calling on the VA to protect veterans’ access to care in their states after the AIR Commission recommendations came out in March, and held a field hearing in Manchester to highlight this and other issues facing New Hampshire veterans.