Congressman Lynch, Veterans Groups To Fight Consolidation Of VA Hospitals

Aug 29, 2006
Congressman Stephen F. Lynch and <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Massachusetts veterans leaders teamed up Thursday night to step up the fight against the proposed consolidation of VA Hospitals in Greater Boston.  Veterans from across the Ninth Congressional District attended the strategy session at the VA Hospital in West Roxbury, which was hosted by Congressman Lynch.

Lynch called for the meeting to update veterans groups about the status of the VA’s Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) process, and discuss the impact that closing any of the 4 VA Hospitals in Greater Boston (Bedford, Brockton, West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain) would have on veterans in New England.

Ralph Cooper, Executive Director of the Roxbury-based Veterans Benefits Clearinghouse, was disappointed that the VA has not been responsive to the concerns of local veterans throughout the CARES Process. Cooper said, "I want to hear the VA say, ‘We want to make the CARES process work for all veterans from all neighborhoods.’  I’m just not hearing that.”

The CARES Process began in 2004 as a study of how to modernize VA facilities throughout the country.  In February 2004, the CARES Commission made its recommendations, which included studying the possibility of closing all four of Boston’s VA Hospitals and consolidating them into one large hospital.  Congressman Lynch and the Massachusetts Delegation led the two-year fight against that proposal, and in July, the VA announced that it had officially rejected the idea.

Unfortunately, as part of the announcement, the VA stated that it would now examine moving inpatient services from Bedford to Brockton and consolidating West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain into one facility.

Congressman Lynch said, "Well, I am pleased that the Veterans Administration recognized that closing the four VA hospitals in Greater Boston was a bad idea, although I am still concerned that they took such a long time and considerable expense to reach that conclusion. While the VA continues to consider consolidating the West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain facilities and moving critical services from Bedford to Brockton, I believe that would hurt our veterans, and I will work to ensure that that does not happen.”

Veterans agents at the meeting Thursday outlined the impact that either move would have on their veterans. 

 

Bob Gale, Veterans Agent for the City of Brockton, said that historically, disability claims don’t start to pour in until 5-10 years after veterans come home, so the idea of closing facilities now "just doesn’t make sense.”

And Ted Mulvehill, Veterans Agent for Norwood, said, "The VA claims that the reason for closing these facilities is because they expect the number of veterans using VA hospitals to decline in the future.  If that’s actually the case – something I find very difficult to believe – then the VA should be re-opening its doors to every veteran it cut out of the system in the last few years.”

"Today we have some veterans waiting six to eight months to see a doctor, others being turned away at the door, and physical therapists in Brockton with dozens more patients than they can possibly be expected to serve,” said Congressman Lynch.

Bob Arsenault, Veterans Agent for Hanson, echoed that sentiment, saying, "We can’t service the veterans we have today.  How can they possibly be thinking about cutting back on services?”

Congressman Lynch noted that there are several possible uses for any excess space in VA Hospitals that aren’t being considered.  Namely, he said, the space could be used either to create a new amputee center to help the large number of wounded veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, or to create assisted living or nursing home style housing, something which is sorely lacking for our older veterans.

Mike Pazyra, Veterans Agent for the Town of Stoughton, agreed, saying that "Housing is a huge issue for veterans in Stoughton—that should without question be part of the discussion moving forward.”

The meeting was also attended by Tom Materazzo (Former Commissioner of Veterans Services in Boston), Jim Campbell (Randolph Veterans Agent), David MacGillvray (on behalf of his brother, Natick Veterans Agent John MacGillvray), Ray Richards and Richard Langevin (Disabled American Veterans), representatives of Congressmen Ed Markey, Marty Meehan and Mike Capuano, and Wayne Szretter (VA Boston Healthcare System).

Lynch told the veterans that he would relay their concerns to the VA directly and that he had requested a meeting with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson and the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation in Washington in September.  Congressman Lynch also encouraged all Massachusetts veterans to voice their concerns to the VA during the comment period scheduled for the month of September.

Congressman Lynch said, "Hopefully, we can now focus on some other issues like paying our VA doctors, nurses, therapists and staff a salary that is commensurate with their skill and service, modernizing our existing VA facilities and improving the transportation system for veterans, so that they continue to get the high quality of care that they deserve.  I will continue to work with the Congressional Delegation, the VA and our state veterans agents and advocacy groups to improve the VA health care system in our region.”

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