Veterans hail decision to keep full service at VA hospital
Feds had eyed moving surgical unit out of Brooklyn
Brooklyn’s military veterans were breathing a big sigh of relief after a local lawmaker announced that plans by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to close an inpatient surgical unit at the Veterans Administration New York Harbor Healthcare System in Bay Ridge have been scrapped.
U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan (R-C-Bay Ridge-Southwest Brooklyn-Staten Island) said Tuesday that he and other elected officials had been successful in their efforts to convince the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to keep the inpatient surgical unit open at the Harbor Healthcare location (also known as the Brooklyn VA Medical Center) rather than move the unit to a location on the East Side of Manhattan.
The unit, located within the hospital at 800 Poly Place, had been under the threat of closure for several months.
Raymond Aalbue, executive director of the United Military Veterans of Kings County, said it’s important to veterans to be able to obtain health care close to home.
“This is great news,” he said of the decision to keep the unit in Brooklyn “Veterans are one of America’s greatest assets and their welfare must be a priority. Thanks to Congressman Donovan for pushing the agenda and making sure that veterans and their families will continue to be cared for by the VA.”
New York Harbor Healthcare System is part of the Veterans Administration and runs the VA Medical Center in Brooklyn, as well as facilities in Manhattan and Queens.
Donovan and other elected officials, like Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and state Sens. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-Southwest Brooklyn) and Diane Savino (D-Coney Island-Bensonhurst-Staten Island), charged that a shutdown would have led to the loss of 25 inpatient beds and would have severely hurt patients, particularly elderly veterans.
Most of the patients treated at the Brooklyn hospital are from Brooklyn, but many come over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from Staten Island to seek care, Donovan said.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by Donovan, wrote a joint letter to U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin in August requesting that the unit be allowed to remain in Brooklyn.
Doctors in the surgical unit perform open-heart procedures, joint reconstructions, appendectomies and other operations.
“Our veterans have sacrificed enough, and they shouldn’t have to trek to Manhattan for medical care. To their credit, the VA heard our concerns and decided to keep everything as is at the Brooklyn hospital. I’ll keep fighting for those who put everything on the line to defend our great country,” Donovan said.
As Brooklyn Eagle reporter Mary Frost reported in June, the Brooklyn facility is located 12.5 miles away from the Manhattan campus. It can take anywhere from 35 minutes to one hour and 25 minutes to travel between the two facilities on a weekday morning, according to Google Maps. It can take as much as one and 20 minutes by mass transit.
Leaders of veterans’ organizations praised the outcome.
“We’re very happy that the congressman was able to convince the VA not to move the surgical unit. Local veterans are always in need of medical assistance, and keeping the VA medical surgical unit intact is a win-win for both the veterans and the community,” said Mike Gargiuolo, president of Rolling Thunder Chapter 2 New York.
Kristen Rouse, a U.S. Army veteran and the founding director of the NYC Veterans Alliance, said it’s a good step forward. “We applaud the leadership of Congressman Donovan and the bipartisan advocacy of the many Brooklyn elected leaders who stood against closure and contraction of services at the Brooklyn VAMC. As our leaders and our community are well aware, we must focus on improving VA care for our city’s veterans, not reducing available options,” she said.
Herbert Morales, commander of Disabled American Veterans Chapter 154, said traveling to Manhattan would have been a hardship. “There is no parking at this facility and I am not able to travel there by bus or train. Thanks to Congressman Donovan and all involved for working to keep medical services at the Brooklyn VA hospital and for helping all the veterans with these issues,” he said.
Elected officials also expressed relief.
“Thanks to the leadership of Rep. Donovan, the bipartisan response to the threat of service cuts at the Brooklyn VA Medical Center has been successful. After putting their lives on the line to defend our freedom, our veterans deserve nothing less than reliable access to high-quality health care,” Adams said.
“Secretary Shulkin agreed that our veterans should not be forced to travel to Manhattan to receive the tests, treatments and programs for which they are entitled. I hope moving forward, the VA will be looking for ways to expand our local VA hospitals so that each borough will have an easily accessible medical facility that meets the demands of the growing local veteran population,” Golden said.
“These critical services are needed for countless veterans who have already given so much to our country,” Savino said.
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