Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center

Veterans in the area will be able to continue to use the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center for years to come.

The United States Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee said in a news release that it will not move forward with the recommendations of the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission, one of which was the closing of the Muskogee facility.

Don Nichols, Muskogee chapter commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, was thrilled to hear the news, but said there is more work to be done.

"We're halfway there," he said. "We want our hospital to stay open — that's the good thing. We need the hospital to be a fully functioning hospital with an emergency room.

"So, if we let this go and say we'll accept the hospital without emergency care, we're really not taking care of the veterans in Southeast Oklahoma that need that because there really isn't any place for them to go."

Olya Voytovich, spokeswoman for Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Montana), said it was campaigns similar to the one Nichols has been staging in Muskogee that helped sway the committee's decision.

"Because the senators announced their collective opposition to the AIR Commission, the recommendations will no longer be moving forward," she said. "We've heard from countless veterans that would have been impacted across the country who seem to be very happy with this move, because at the end of the day we didn't want any VA facility to shut down."

Nichols also said the "Save the VA Rally" set for 5:30 p.m. Friday at Muskogee Civic Center gazebo will go on as scheduled. However, Nichols said the theme of the rally will be different.

"We're going to celebrate the fact that we kept the hospital open," he said. "But we need a fully functioning hospital. We just need to stand shoulder to shoulder with all the great people of Muskogee and the folks in Eastern Oklahoma."

In March, the AIR Commission issued a report recommending the closing of the Muskogee facility.

"The report noted the veteran population within the Eastern Oklahoma Market "is concentrated in the Tulsa area." A cost-benefit analysis by the commission said it would cost just about as much to shutter the Muskogee VAMC and realign services with the veteran population in Tulsa than stay the course as previously planned.

"Once the new VA hospital is developed, the aging Muskogee VAMC will decant inpatient services to the new hospital and all other services to other VA locations, and close," VA officials stated in the report, noting plans to expand outpatient services. "The strategy for the market is intended to provide veterans today and in the future with access to high-quality and conveniently located care in modern infrastructure."

Department of Veterans Affairs Acting Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs Melissa Bryant said in a statement, "President Biden has insisted that our veterans in the 21st century should not be forced to receive care in early 20th century buildings. The median age of VA’s hospitals is nearly 60 years old, and that’s why the President requested nearly $20 billion in new VA infrastructure spending last year and it is why he has requested the largest ever investment in VA infrastructure in his FY23 budget. Whatever Congress decides to do with the AIR Commission — which was called for in the 2018 MISSION Act — we will continue to fight for the funding and modernization that our veterans deserve."

In the release, the committee explained its reasoning for ending the AIR Commission.

"As Senators, we share a commitment to expanding and strengthening modern VA infrastructure in a way that upholds our obligations to America’s veterans," the release said. "We believe the recommendations put forth to the AIR Commission are not reflective of that goal, and would put veterans in both rural and urban areas at a disadvantage, which is why we are announcing that this process does not have our support and will not move forward."

In 2018, Congress passed the VA Mission Act that required the Department of Veterans Affairs to research, develop and publish a list of recommendations intended to modernize VA medical facilities and health care delivery — including through facility expansions, relocations, closures or changes in services. The act was signed into law by former President Donald Trump.

The committee's release says the law further directed those recommendations to be reviewed by a presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed Commission, which would then report its views of the recommendations to the President who could end the process or present recommendations to Congress for a vote.

"Without the Senate’s approval of the nominees, no Commission will be established and the process as outlined by the VA Mission Act will not move forward," the committee said.

React to this story:


Trending Video