Montana leaders, veterans push back on VA report recommending clinic closures

Published by Jonathon Ambarian

(Alastair Pike/AFP via Getty Images)


HELENA — A new federal report is laying out big potential changes for veterans’ health care facilities across the country – including here in Montana. However, there’s a long way to go before any of them might become a reality.


Last week, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released its Asset and Infrastructure Review report, a massive document analyzing VA facilities across the U.S. and making recommendations on what changes to make in the system to get it ready to serve veterans into the future.


In Montana, the report recommends closing some VA clinics – though leaders want to make clear that doesn’t mean any immediate changes to their operations.


“I just really want to strongly emphasize that they are recommendations,” said Dr. Judy Hayman, executive director of the Montana VA Healthcare System. “There’s a year-long review process that will be going on, to determine what recommendations are sent forward to the president – and some may not.”


Hayman says the report hasn’t affected how they’re proceeding with updating their facilities.

“We’re actually looking at expanding services across the state,” she said.


The Montana VA currently operates 19 locations across the state. The federal recommendations call for closing four of them: rural clinics in Browning, Glasgow and Plentywood, as well as the Miles City Community Living Center, a nursing home. They also suggest other changes, like shifting the emergency department at the Fort Harrison VA Medical Center to an urgent care center and discontinuing outpatient surgical services at a Billings health care center.


The report says the buildings suggested for closure are seeing relatively low use. In fiscal year 2019, they identified just over 2,000 primary care visits and 150 mental health visits at the Glasgow clinic and 369 primary care and 39 mental health visits at the Plentywood clinic....


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