Sen. Capito talks veterans, Title 42, broadband, and gas prices

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said a bill she co-sponsored with a bipartisan group of senators, including U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, will help prevent VA recommendations for reducing services at West Virginia’s VA medical centers from being considered. (Photo by Steven Allen Adams)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito is not taking a break heading into the Memorial Day weekend, working on multiple issues of interest to West Virginians.

Capito, R-W.Va., sat down for an interview Tuesday afternoon in her office on the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill.

Memorial Day weekend pays tribute to the men and women of the U.S. military who died in service of the nation. It’s also a time for many to say thanks to military veterans for their service. That’s why Capito and a bipartisan group of senators are introducing a bill to prevent recommendations by the Department of Veterans Affairs to cut services at VA medical centers across the U.S. from being implemented.

Capito – along with U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; Mike Rounds, R-S.D.; and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. — reintroduced the Elimination of the VA Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission Act. The bill would eliminate the AIR Commission that would review the VA recommendations.

“I actually have just joined recently with Senator Manchin to create a bill that would basically throw out any kind of recommendations that the AIR Commission would do,” Capito said. “This is going on all over the country, and there’s a lot of fear and trepidation here from a system that serves our veterans and serves those that have served us.”

The VA released its Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) report in March. The proposal involves closing as many as three medical centers and 174 outpatient clinics while also creating 255 new healthcare facilities focused on rehabilitation, long-term care, and other services aimed at older veterans.

As part of the AIR recommendations, Huntington and Clarksburg VA medical centers would stop offering inpatient medical and surgical services, instead partnering with local hospitals and healthcare facilities. The Huntington and Clarksburg VAMC’s emergency departments would convert to urgent care centers.

The AIR Report recommends constructing a new VA Medical Center to replace the Beckley VAMC, but the new facility would not offer the same inpatient medical and surgical services. Instead, the new Beckley VAMC would have a new community living center, adult day care, and offer non-surgical outpatient services.

Capito said the recommendations, if implemented, would come down hard on rural communities. The recommendations still have to be approved by the AIR Commission, which is not yet up and running, then by President Joe Biden, and then signed off by Congress. Capito said it was better to stop the process sooner rather than later.

“I think the best thing is to cut the head off now,” Capito said. “I think there’s a lot of support for the bill that we just put out to eliminate this; what I think is the wrong direction to go.”

A federal judge last week halted plans by Biden to lift Title 42, a COVID-19 health order holdover from the administration of former president Donald Trump that sent asylum seekers back to their countries of origin to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Illegal immigration at the U.S. southern border has continued to spike over the last two years.

Capito said the courts made the right call in leaving Title 42 in place. She said Biden’s lax policy at the border does a disservice to the immigrants who have come to the U.S. and West Virginia legally over the decades.

“We all have friends that have these wonderful roots, but they came legally,” Capito said. “They came by the rules. Cheating the rules and still being allowed to stay in this wonderful country is not fair. West Virginians understand it’s not fair.”

Capito was also critical of the Biden administration’s handling of the rising costs of gasoline prices. Biden has placed the blame on recent increases in inflation and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine for gas price spikes. Capito said prices were rising before inflation shot upward and before the attack on Ukraine.

“It’s amazing to me that they’re just now waking up to this. They want to blame everybody else but themselves,” Capito said. “You’ve got to look in the mirror here and realize, what have you been doing to try to alleviate this? They’ve cut off leases, they’ve cut off pipelines, and they’re not moving forward with our own domestic production … It’s going to be a big election issue.”

Last week, Capito and Manchin announced that West Virginia will receive $5 million from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to help fund the state’s planning for the nearly $600 million in broadband funding for unserved and underserved parts of the state. Capito said the broadband planning funding would help prevent waste and abuse, and make sure the funds expand broadband where it is needed most.

“I want to make sure that when we create these programs, that West Virginia gets our fair share, but also that the money is spent well,” Capito said. “That planning grant will help us develop the program and to move the right direction so we can get all this money from the infrastructure package. And hopefully we won’t have to have this conversation again.”


You can listen to the full interview with U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito on Friday by subscribing to the Mountain State Views podcast, available on most podcast platforms.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *


Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today