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Spokane veterans will see no immediate change to their care, says VA Secretary

VA Secretary Denis McDonough
Robert Turtil/Courtesy of Veterans Administration
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Denis McDonough says the VA hopes to expand health care services to veterans in the Northwest.

Denis McDonough spoke to western governors Wednesday in Coeur d'Alene.

The head of the federal Veterans’ Administration says he doesn’t envision any immediate change in the services the agency provides in Spokane.

A federal commission recommended in March that Spokane’s Mann-Grandstaff Medical Center stop offering some inpatient medical services. Veterans who need those procedures would be referred to other hospitals and the VA would specialize in outpatient care.

That drew a sharp response from Senator Patty Murray and other elected officials in Washington.

As a result, VA Secretary Denis McDonough says the agency won’t go forward with those recommendations, for now.

“But, how we deliver that care and what those facilities look like inevitably will have to change over time. I don’t know what that will look like yet," McDonough told reporters at the Western Governors’ Association meeting Wednesday in Coeur d’Alene.

"Will there be a reduction in services to our vets? In fact, I think we need to see an increase in the kinds of services that we offer to our vets," he said.

The report also recommended moving outpatient services from the Walla Walla VA facility to Spokane, another move that drew criticism.

When McDonough spoke with reporters, he was anticipating the Senate would, later in the day, approve a bill that would allow veterans who were exposed to burn pits and other toxic chemicals during their overseas service to receive medical care from the VA.

“We want to make sure that every veteran who served in that region, from Somalia in the southwest to Uzbekistan in the northeast, and you’ll remember that in the middle of that geography are two places, Iraq and Afghanistan, where we had more than three million of our men and women serving, exposed to these toxins, exposed to the particulate matter of serving in the desert, we want every one of them to file that claim," he said. "We want that process to be straightforward, clear and we want to get their answers back to them on their claims quickly.”

The bill had passed the Senate by an 84-14 vote earlier this year. It went to the House and passed in a different form, then was sent back to the Senate for final passage on that bill. On Wednesday, the amended version received only 55 votes, five short of the 60 it needed to pass.