Proposal to relocate Salem VA Medical Center draws reaction from employee union, veterans

Published: Mar. 16, 2022 at 8:23 PM EDT
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SALEM, Va. (WDBJ) - A plan that could mean big changes for the Salem VA Medical Center is drawing reaction from union leaders who represent employees, and from veterans who rely on the hospital for their health care.

Wednesday, members of both groups told WDBJ7 they are deeply skeptical of the proposal.

This week, the Department of Veterans Affairs released an Asset and Infrastructure Review report that considered changes in service areas across the country. In western Virginia, recommendations called for closing the Salem VA Medical Center, and relocating services to a new medical center in Roanoke.

Located on more than 200 acres, the Salem VA Medical Center first opened in the 1930s. While the main hospital was built in 1992, many of the other buildings are outdated. The report said it would cost almost $300 million to correct all of the deficiencies.

“The members that we represent at the Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center are committed to serving veterans,” said Tony Williams with the AFGE National Veterans Affairs Council. “And they care that the closing of our facilities will lead to unexpected layoffs, will negatively impact our ability to care for our patients and many veterans will be forced to seek private, for-profit services.”

Union leaders who represent about 2,000 full-time employees at the Center question whether a smaller facility providing fewer services would meet the health care needs of veterans in western Virginia.

Patrick Tison is AFGE Local 1739 President.

“That would be a big concern if they were going to take away any of the services we already provide or reduce any of our staffing,” Tison told WDBJ7. “And so we hope that is something that will never come to light here.”

US Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) discussed the issue during a teleconference Wednesday afternoon. He said he will be paying close attention during the public comment period.

“Because there’s really one standard. Will any change improve care for our veterans or will it degrade care for our veterans?” Kaine said. “And so I’m going to be following the public input in a really close way on this.”

We also spoke with veterans off camera and they told a similar story, saying they fear how proposed changes will affect their health care.

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