COLUMBUS — The Ohio General Assembly took the first steps in urging President Joe Biden to keep the Chillicothe VA Medical Center open earlier this week.

In a 89-0 vote, the Ohio House of Representatives passed House Concurrent Resolution 46- legislation introduced by Reps. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro) and Mark Johnson (R-Chillicothe).

Following the vote, Wilkin, who represents Pike County in House District 91, said no valid reason existed to closing the near 100-year-old facility.

“What the Washington bureaucrats need to do is come to Chillicothe, thank the men and women of Southern Ohio for their service to America, and make a commitment that this facility will remain open,” he said in a released statement.

In late April, U.S. Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown have made their way to Chillicothe along with VA Secretary Denis McDonough to tour the facility and speak with veterans.

There, they too vowed to maintain the VA presence in Chillicothe which currently serves 17 counties in the tri-state and 20,000 veterans.

“Under no circumstance will the VA leave Chillicothe,” McDonough said in his April 29 visit. “The VA is committed to our veterans in every market across the country, and that’s definitely true in Chillicothe.”

The closure of the CVAMC became a possibility after the VA submitted a 73-page report to the Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission in March. Among several other recommended closures, the reasons for the CVAMC came down to location and an expected decrease in population.

In its place would be a smaller, but new multi-speciality Community-Based Outpatient Care facility in Chillicothe. Inpatient services would be split between the Dayton VAMC and a new build in Circleville.

Already, veterans throughout the region have expressed their disdain for the proposal in community meetings. In committee testimony, others took that opportunity.

Jessica Fee is a daughter of a Vietnam War veteran and President of the local 1631 American Federation of Government Employees union. More than 1,400 are employed at CVAMC, but a closure would see that number drop to the hundreds she said.

This drop in staff could cause a domino effect both economically and at the personal level, Fee said.

“We are already servicing only 40% of mental health care in our region,” her proponent testimony reads from a May 18 Armed Services and Veterans Committee session. “With the VA leaving, we don’t know what that will look like. We know it will be less than 40% which is already a troublesome number.”

Before closure of the CVAMC, the AIR Commission will review those recommendations and either recommend changes or forward it to President Biden. The president will then either call for changes or send it to Congress by Feb. 15, 2023.

By March 15, the commission must have its changes returned to the president, who will then decide whether to terminate the process or submit them to Congress.

If the President approves the recommendations, Congress has 45 days from the date of approval to terminate the process by enacting a joint resolution of disapproval. If Congress does not enact a joint resolution of disapproval, the VA is required to implement the recommendations.

However, this process has not begun since the commission has not been appointed. Once formed, the AIR Commission will have nine members appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

The AIR Commission is required to submit a final list of recommendations to the president by Jan. 31, 2023.

HCR 46 now heads to the Ohio Senate for further consideration.

Contact Patrick Keck at pkeck@vintonjacksoncourier.com or by phone at 740-947-2149, ext. 300431 and follow him on Twitter @pkeckreporter.

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