Republican Nassau County executive candidate Jack Martins is calling on Nassau University Medical Center to apply for designation in a federal program that would allow local veterans to receive treatment there instead of at VA facilities in Suffolk County or New York City.
Martins, a former state senator, said NUMC already has the staff and resources for eligibility in the Veterans Choice program, which lets veterans find an alternate hospital when the closest VA medical center cannot provide the necessary services, or has a wait of more than 30 days.
“This is as clear a no-brainer as there is anywhere,” Martins said in an interview. “It begs the question, ‘why haven’t they done it yet?’ ”
Enacted in 2014, the Veterans Choice program gives veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and other combat-related conditions a chance to seek care outside the Department of Veterans Affairs if they meet certain eligibility requirements, including demonstrating a hardship in getting to their closest VA hospital.
For patients in Nassau, the closest VA hospitals are in Northport and Brooklyn. NUMC is run by a public benefit corporation, the Nassau Health Care Corporation, and would receive federal reimbursements for treatment under the Veterans Choice Program, Martins said.
Responding to Martins’ call, NUMC spokeswoman Shelley Lotenberg said in a statement Thursday: “We look forward to exploring this exciting opportunity to help veterans obtain the care they need, closer to their communities, in a brand-new primary care center with board-certified physicians in all sub-specialties.”
Nassau County Legis. William Gaylor (R-Lynbrook), chairman of the legislature’s Veterans and Senior Affairs Committee, who has also worked on the issue, noted that the distance some Nassau veterans must travel to receive care is “simply unacceptable, especially when we have a top-rated medical facility, with world-renowned doctors and staff ready, willing and able to care for our veterans.”
Martins will face the winner of the Sept. 12 Democratic primary for county executive between County Legis. Laura Curran of Baldwin and County Comptroller George Maragos.
Maragos declined to comment on the issue.
Curran spokesman Philip Shulman said in a statement that Curran supports Martins’ request, but also criticized him for not raising unrelated recent NUMC issues, including a lucrative contract extension for the hospital’s public benefit corporation’s Republican-appointed chief executive, and a lawsuit by the county Civil Service Commission that alleged the hospital has skirted hiring rules meant to prevent political influence.
“Of course, Laura agrees that Nassau County veterans deserve the highest possible level of care at the most convenient facilities,” Shulman said. “It’s distressing, however, that Jack Martins has chosen an issue that unites us all — health care for veterans — to try to distract from the revelations of mismanagement and taxpayer-funded patronage that have emerged in the past week about the public hospital run by his political machine.”