A Department of Veterans Affairs plan that recommended ending most services...

A Department of Veterans Affairs plan that recommended ending most services at the Northport VA hospital including the ER will not go forward, a U.S. Senate oversight committee said Monday. Credit: Johnny Milano

A plan by the Department of Veterans Affairs to shutter most services at the Northport VA hospital including the emergency room is "not going to happen,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told Newsday Monday.

“Northport is staying just the way it is,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. “We'll fight hard to expand it, but all of the cutbacks and closures that ... [the VA] announced, which is basically leaving just a skeleton, are gone. They’re not going to happen.”

As outlined in an 82-page report by the VA's Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission, Northport's medical and surgical services would have shifted to area hospitals while eliminating most care currently provided at the VA Medical Center campus, Long Island's only hospital serving the approximately 100,000 veterans living in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

In a joint statement Monday, members of the bipartisan Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, which does not include Schumer, confirmed that the plan to reorganize veterans hospitals across the country would not move forward.

“We share a commitment to expanding and strengthening modern VA infrastructure in a way that upholds our obligations to America’s veterans," the statement said. "We believe the recommendations put forth to the AIR Commission are not reflective of that goal, and would put veterans in both rural and urban areas at a disadvantage."

The nine-member commission had said the Northport VA plan — which was years away from implementation — was necessary to meet changing patient demands, while avoiding more than $600 million in needed repairs for the century-old facility.

Under the scrapped plan, urgent-care services would have moved to a new outpatient clinic in Commack, with residential rehabilitation treatment transitioned to the St. Albans VA Medical Center, 42 miles away in Queens. Inpatient rehabilitation for blind patients would have moved to Connecticut, leaving only inpatient mental health, residential nursing home care and rehabilitation medicine at Northport.

The VA’s proposal, Schumer said, “is not in keeping with the promise we make to our veterans that when you're older, you'll get good health care.”

VA hospitals nationwide are an average of 60 years old and in serious need of improvements, said department spokeswoman Melissa Bryant.

“Whatever Congress decides to do with the AIR Commission, which was called for in the 2018 Mission Act," Bryant said, "we will continue to fight for the funding and modernization that our veterans deserve."

VA inpatient medical and surgical services on Long Island are estimated to decrease 17.5% through 2029, the review commission said in its report. Requests for inpatient mental health services and long-term care would drop by about 9% and 11%, respectively, according to the report.

Meanwhile, the commission's report said, demand for outpatient services, including primary care, mental health, dental care and rehabilitation therapies, is projected to increase.

The commission had suggested rebuilding Northport as a campus for patients who no longer require daily invasive services but need more intensive care than provided at skilled nursing care facilities.

Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), whose district includes the Northport VA, said the plan would have inconvenienced thousands of Long Island veterans while wasting money the department is already investing to rebuild the hospital’s emergency room and replace its aging HVAC system.

“Our vets deserve the best care and should not be living with day-to-day fear that the services and the location of which they receive the services will suddenly be flipped upside down,” Suozzi said.

His GOP counterpart, Rep. Andrew Garbarino, of Bay Shore, described some of the commission's recommendations as "incredibly misguided."

"Instead of reducing access to services, there is plenty we can do to provide better health care to our nation’s heroes, such as making it easier for veterans to see their own doctors whenever possible," he said.

Bill McKenna, commander of the American Legion Post 694 Northport, said he was “ecstatic” to hear the Northport VA would remain untouched.

“There’s hundreds and hundreds of veterans every day that their life depends on the services that are here on campus in Northport,” said McKenna, a Vietnam vet who uses the hospital. “Freedom is not free, and our veterans are very, very important and they need to be cared for.”

McKenna’s brother, James, a 76-year-old Air Force veteran, said the decision was “music to my ears.”

“I am a disabled combat service veteran from Vietnam dealing with Agent Orange so the fact that I need that facility goes way beyond any question of a doubt,” he said.

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