Congressman Adam Smith (D-Tacoma) today sent the following letter with Congressman Norm Dicks (D-Bellfair) to Secretary Anthony J. Principi of the Department of Veterans Affairs urging the preservation of VA facilities at American Lake.

July 29, 2003

The Honorable Anthony J. Principi
Secretary
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary Principi,           

We are writing in opposition to instructions given to the VISN 20 leadership during the CARES (Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services) process to resubmit their facilities recommendations with plans to potentially close the VA facilities at American Lake.  A decision to close the American Lake hospital would restrict and deny health care services to thousands of veterans throughout the south Puget Sound area and we urge you to reconsider this recommendation.

VISN 20 acknowledges a growing veteran population as well as significant requirements for specialized care throughout the State of Washington.  These trends will be particularly acute in the south Puget Sound area as many veterans continue to settle in Pierce and Thurston counties.

We are very concerned about the failure to deliver on our promise to our veterans.  Recently we have seen efforts by the VA to suspend enrollment for category 8 veterans and halt the marketing of available benefits to eligible veterans.  To further restrict access to health care by eliminating the American Lake hospital is unacceptable.

Since its beginning in 1924, American Lake has been a valuable and unique hospital due to its geographic location.  In our dealings with the American Lake hospital, the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, and VISN 20, it is clear that the American Lake facility is vital to the south Puget Sound community.  The VA’s suggestion to possibly close the American Lake hospital completely disregards VISN 20 recommendations for health care delivery to our state’s veteran population. 

We must honor our veterans and military retirees by following through on our commitment to them.  With over 700,000 veterans and military retirees in Washington state and an increasing number relying on the VA for their health care services, the VA must ensure that veterans have access to health care.

We urge you to withdraw the instructions to VISN 20 to make recommendations to potentially close the VA hospital at American Lake.

Sincerely,

Adam Smith                                          Norm Dicks
Member of Congress                             Member of Congress