According to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs’ latest report on revamping and updating medical infrastructure for veterans nationwide, Building 1 at the Doris Miller VA Medical Center in Waco is slated for completion.
The recommendation appears to be good news for Waco, said Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Waco.
“Doris Miller’s facility was at one time considered a center of excellence,” Sessions said in a written statement Thursday. “I believe we need to continue this legacy and build on it.”
Perhaps of concern in the review of assets and infrastructure released March 14 by Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough, however, it does not mention the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder in relation to Waco’s VA facilities. The report cites a variety of mental health services as well as a residential rehabilitation treatment program, which a regional VA spokesperson said includes PTSD among its functions.
The secretary’s report also specifically calls on Waco to continue its services for blind veterans.
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The asset and infrastructure review report contains recommendations only, and no decision to act on the recommendations has yet been made, VA regional spokesman Bill Negron said by email.
McLennan County Veterans Services Officer Steve Hernandez said most veterans in the area are satisfied with the many services provided by the VA.
“About 85 percent of veterans in our county are satisfied with the health services provided by the VA, and that includes mental health services,” Hernandez said.
He said an additional 12% had issues that he and his team addressed with VA at the lowest level through clinicians, patient care advocates and social workers.
“And then there’s the 3% that just can’t be satisfied,” Hernandez said. “These are the ones that get the most attention.”
Hernandez said the Doris Miller Center and the services it provides remain vital to the veterans it serves.
Recommendations for building a
McDonough’s report recommends a complete interior renovation of Building 1 at the Doris Miller Facility to relocate primary care, outpatient mental health care, and pharmacy services.
It does not say what services are currently provided there or what a renovation might cost.
The report states that the current primary care and pharmacy space at the Doris Miller Center is insufficient to support the patient-aligned care team model, with insufficient exam capacity and undersized spaces.
“Building 1’s infrastructure has been upgraded and is ready for interior construction,” the report said.
Negron said the report’s recommendations attempt to address needed modernization as health technologies have improved over time and patient needs have changed.
Although not specifically mentioned, Sessions said treating PTSD for veterans is important, as is creating the right environment for them to receive care.
“We need to find a way to improve and expand access to meet the needs of veterans in central Texas, particularly by expanding specialty care like PTSD treatment,” Sessions said. “The importance of addressing mental health and PTSD has been embraced nationally, and as such, the VA must prioritize avenues that will provide veterans with these types of treatments.
“My heart is to see these veterans recover and in a timely manner.”
Residential rehabilitation treatment
In addition to treatment for PTSD, the Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program in Waco “also provides treatment for a variety of issues, including vocational rehabilitation, military sexual trauma, substance use disorders, and mental health disorders. the mood,” Negron said.
The program’s capacity should not change, he wrote.
It will remain as “a 22-bed severe mental illness life enhancement unit in Waco, providing residential care for veterans with severe mental illness”, with an “additional 30-bed PRTR for female veterans” , Negron said.
Inpatient mental health services will also continue in Waco, with a 40-bed unit providing care separately for men and women, he said.
Rehabilitation for Blind Veterans
Services for blind veterans will also continue in Waco, according to McDonough’s report.
According to Negron, the Blind Rehab Center in Waco offers intensive, interdisciplinary rehabilitation programs for blind veterans and veterans with visual impairments.
“The BRC’s residential setting maximizes opportunities for peer-to-peer interactions, which helps veterans strive for their best level of independence and envision a positive future,” Negron said in his email.
It is the VA workforce, not the infrastructure, that cares for veterans or saves their lives, Negron wrote.
“VA is not only looking to invest in physical infrastructure, but is also actively looking to invest in the VA workforce, as they are a critical part of VA’s future,” he said.
Community support for Doris Miller
The Mayor, City Council and Waco staff support the VA’s recommendations for preserving and improving existing clinical services here in Waco, City Manager Bradley Ford said.
“The Doris Miller VA Medical Center is a vital asset to veterans in Waco and the surrounding area,” Ford said. “This is a top priority for our mayor and our city council.”
Nearly 20 years ago, a concerted community effort by Waco, its congressman, and veterans who receive services at the Doris Miller Center reversed a plan that at the time would have shut it down.
If the center were closed, dozens of VA employees would lose their jobs or have to move to a new city, and any veterans served there would have to drive many fathers to other facilities for their care.
Today, the Doris Miller Center continues to provide veterans with much-needed mental health care, rehabilitation for those who have lost their sight, as well as a variety of other inpatient and outpatient services.
In November, the facility’s deputy director, Amy Maynard, said her center had a healthy future.
“There is an ongoing usage review and market assessments have been done across VA,” Maynard said in November.
The results of the review and studies mentioned by Maynard led to the Asset and Infrastructure Review released earlier this month.
Maynard said in November she didn’t believe her establishment was in danger of closing. Last week, Negron also said there were no plans to close VA facilities in Waco.
The report raised concerns in other communities that closures or reductions of their VA facilities may be underway, although no closure decision has been made.
“There have been no announcements or decisions regarding the closure of VA facilities anywhere,” Negron wrote.
A review of the changing and shifting future health care needs of a veteran population led to the Asset and Infrastructure Review Report, which is also a statutory requirement for the VA Secretary , Negron said via email.
The secretary’s recommendations remain recommendations, he said.
“Any potential changes to VA’s healthcare infrastructure may take several years and are dependent on the decisions of the Board, the President, and Congress, as well as strong stakeholder engagement and planning,” wrote Negro.
Over the next few years, he wrote that recommendations from the Asset and Infrastructure Review could impact Veterans Administration facilities and personnel, but it’s too early to know exactly what and where. these impacts could occur.
“Nothing changes now for veterans’ access to care or VA employees,” Negron wrote.
This statement could go either way, because if nothing changes, no facility closes and no one loses their job and no one loses care. But renovations won’t necessarily happen either. Negron said millions of dollars worth of construction projects are active at Waco VA facilities and more are in demand.
“The Central Texas Veterans Health Care System has a responsibility, today and tomorrow, to provide the highest quality care and safety to our veterans,” Negron wrote. “Currently, the Waco VA campus has nearly $20 million in active construction projects. An additional $30 million has been requested for capital projects for 2023.”