CHEYENNE – Wyoming’s congressional delegation is demanding answers about a downgrade in the local Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s status – a move they said was made without their knowledge.
U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and Rep. Liz Cheney, all Wyoming Republicans, sent a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin calling for detailed explanations regarding the federal agency’s decision to change the complexity level of the Cheyenne VA from level 2 to level 3.
The letter, dated Jan. 26, said the delegation learned that week the Cheyenne VA complexity level would change. Meetings with Wyoming VA leadership left many unanswered questions regarding the process and how the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs came to the decision, the letter says.
It appears the federal agency made the decision without consulting Wyoming’s congressional delegates or the U.S. House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees, which the letter’s signatories say is “concerning and unacceptable.” The delegation does not know when the decision was made, what criteria and reasoning were used, or how complexity ratings influence services and funding.
“We are concerned that the failure of the VA to provide adequate notification and justification creates tremendous uncertainty regarding how care will be provided to Wyoming veterans in the future,” the letter states.
The Veterans Health Administration’s Facility Complexity Model groupings are used for various peer grouping purposes, such as operational reporting, performance measurement and research studies. It classifies VHA facilities at levels 1a, 1b, 1c, 2 or 3, where level 1a is the most complex and level 3 is the least. The model is reviewed and updated every three years.
The congressional delegation’s chief concern is how the rating reduction will impact services provided at the Cheyenne VA and funding for the facility. Wyoming’s rural nature and winter road closures limit veterans’ ability to travel to the VA in Denver, the letter reads. Any decision reducing the availability of services at the Cheyenne VA would have more troubling consequences than it would in more densely populated areas.
In a statement Friday, the delegates said they’ve been assured that the complexity level downgrade would not affect the available services or future funding, but they still plan to address their concerns with Shulkin and other VA officials in coming days.
“As a delegation, our primary concern is ensuring that the services available to our veterans at the Cheyenne VA (Medical Center) are not impacted, and that veterans in Cheyenne and surrounding areas will still receive the same level of care they need and deserve,” the statement reads.
Cheyenne VA Medical Center Director Paul Roberts said in an email Friday the rating has “no effect on the services we provide” and that “(w)e will continue growing our services to meet the needs of our veterans.”
“In fact, the Cheyenne VA (Medical Center) is growing faster than any other market in our network,” Roberts said. “We are going to continue to provide excellent care and service to our veterans, and strive to develop and maintain partnerships in our rural communities to better care for veterans who cannot travel long distances for their health care.”
The only impact, Roberts said, would come in pay rates for executives who come to work at the facility in the next three years.
“Current employees and veterans will see no difference whatsoever,” he said.
When asked whether local VA leadership was involved in the decision, Roberts said the classification decisions are made at VA headquarters.
Shulkin is an appointee of President Donald Trump, who frequently touts his support for veterans.