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VA study suggests overhaul of ABQ hospital, closing 4 rural NM clinics

ABQ VA Medical Center
Russell Contreras
The Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, N.M.

A report from the Veteran’s Administration released this week is drawing rebuke from members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation because of its recommendation to close VA health clinics in Gallup, Las Vegas, Raton and Española.

The VA report recommends a significant investment to modernize the Albuquerque Veterans Administration Medical Center’s hospice, spinal, dental, women’s, and surgery departments, but also suggests that since the majority of New Mexico’s veterans live within about an hour of Albuquerque that four rural VA healthcare sites should be shuttered.

Representative Teresa Leger Fernández, along with Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan, sent letters of opposition to VA Secretary Denis McDonough. Leger Fernández says veterans in rural parts of her district already have a tough time getting adequate care and would struggle even more if they had to travel long distances to see doctors.

"New Mexico has faced a critical healthcare staffing shortage, the greatest of any state," Leger Fernández said. "There is this failure, I think, of the VA to recognize what is happening on the ground.”

The VA plan calls for transitioning rural veterans to other local healthcare providers and sending Native American veterans in the Gallup area to the already overburdened Indian Health Service hospital there.

Leger Fernández says that closing the healthcare centers would have a larger effect on rural communities, draining them of resources that make them vibrant.

“When we say ‘We thank you for your service,’ it needs to mean that we’re going to provide you the healthcare that you need, and in the process strengthen those communities in which our veterans live," she said.

The closures wouldn’t happen for about three years. In the meantime the VA is reviewing the recommendations and the changes would still need Presidential approval before taking effect.

This report is part of our Your New Mexico Government project, a collaboration between KUNM radio and New Mexico PBS. Support for public media provided by the Thornburg Foundation.

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