The announcement that a plan to stop offering a raft of services at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center won’t go forward is welcome. That blueprint, from the VA’s Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission, would have been a disaster for Long Island’s 100,000 veterans.
Long Island needs more veterans' services, not fewer. Now it's time to build upon Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s intervention to stop the massive reduction in veterans' services nationally as well as on Long Island.
The Northport VA still needs $600 million in renovations. And Nassau County’s veterans still badly need veterans' services closer to home; upfitting and utilizing the Nassau University Medical Center is the best way to make that happen.
The commission based its plan to close the emergency room and curtail services at Northport on the fact that Long Island is projected to see a reduction in veterans’ need for inpatient treatment and surgery, inpatient mental health services, and long-term care. The need for outpatient services, including primary care, mental health, dental care and rehabilitation therapies, is expected to grow.
Urgent-care services would have been moved to an outpatient clinic in Commack, and residential rehabilitation would have gone to the St. Albans VA Medical Center in Queens.
What this plan didn’t seem to take into account was the particular nature of Long Island’s veterans, and their struggles.
Nationally, 4.2% of veterans served in World War II. In Suffolk County 6.7% did, and in Nassau 10.2% did. Our percentage of Korean War veterans is unusually high, too. That’s because while just about 50% of veterans nationally are over 65, 67% of Suffolk’s and 72% of Nassau’s are.
They shouldn’t be asked to go too far from home for services.
Schumer’s office says the $600 million that’s needed at the Northport VA to get the facility back up to snuff and keep it there will come from a variety of sources: earmarks, regular appropriations and special funding bills. Northport is not alone. VA hospitals nationally are an average of 60 years old, and generally need serious improvements.
While meeting the needs of Suffolk's veterans is being hashed out, an $85 million plan from former Nassau County Executive Laura Curran to establish some veterans' services on the NUMC campus, which has Schumer’s support, needs reinvigorating. The money would renovate NUMC to provide some inpatient services and a veterans adult day health care program, and fund upgrades to vacant apartment buildings on the NUMC campus for area veterans.
Veterans often face staggering health challenges. Making it harder to overcome those challenges by reducing the proximity and availability of those services is no way to win the struggle to care for those who fought for us.
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