Volume 75, Number 27 | November 23 - 29, 2005

Villager photo by Ramin Talaie

Veterans in New York City on Veterans Day protested President Bush’s cuts to their health care programs.

Politicians: Only option is keep V.A. Hospital open

By Albert Amateau

Senator Charles Schumer and Congressmember Carolyn Maloney told veterans and their friends who took part in the Veterans Day celebration in Manhattan that veterans deserve the medical care provided by both the Manhattan and Brooklyn Veterans Affairs hospitals.

Schumer and Maloney took the occasion of the Nov. 11 ceremony in Madison Square Park to reaffirm their opposition to closing either the V.A. hospital on 23rd St. and First Ave. in Manhattan or its counterpart in Bay Ridge.

In her Nov. 11 address to veterans, Maloney said, “Your sacrifices deserve more than simple gratitude — you deserve the best health care, and that is why I am fighting to make sure that our great 23rd Street veterans hospital, the best in the country, remains open

The closing of one or both of the hospitals are among nine options set forth in a recent report by Price Waterhouse Cooper for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans Administration Secretary James Nicholson will decide on one of those options in time for a public hearing toward the end of January, according to James Mazzula, a V.A. spokesperson.

One sentence in the report evokes the fears of local elected officials that private-sector development is the hidden agenda for the 6.4-acre Manhattan complex. The sentence reads: “The site’s primary re-use/redevelopment potential is for residential development (condominiums or apartments).”

At a hearing on the report at the end of September, Schumer, Maloney and other elected officials including Senator Hillary Clinton and State Senator Tom Duane testified that the study was deeply flawed.

Maloney, whose congressional district includes the Manhattan hospital, said there was no data in the summary report that justified Price Waterhouse Cooper’s conclusion that all nine options offered veterans equivalent quality and access to care.

Duane said that the first option in the report, which would leave services as they are at both hospitals, is most acceptable. The next three options would consolidate both hospitals in Brooklyn, and another option would consolidate all care in Manhattan except for psychiatric care, which would shift to Brooklyn. “This plan does not seriously consider the mental health care needs of veterans no matter where they live,” said Duane.

Options six and seven would sustain current research capabilities in Manhattan and Brooklyn and largely preserve most services but realign them in each location. Duane, however, said those options would require local input to align services with patients’ needs.

Options eight and nine propose building new facilities in Queens and reducing services in Manhattan. “The study fails to show how a hospital in Queens could better serve veterans and the public now or in case of an emergency,” Duane said.

Clinton said each hospital plays an irreplaceable role in its community and closing either of them would diminish the medical care of veterans in the metropolitan area. “At this time in our nation’s history, with U.S. troops bravely serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, it sends the wrong message to propose such drastic changes in veterans’ health care without proper thought and deliberation,” Clinton said.

All the options, however, would reduce the size of both hospital complexes.

Elected officials emphasized the close relationship of New York University Medical Center with the Manhattan V.A. Hospital. Indeed, the N.Y.U. Center, which extends from 29th to 34th Sts. along First Ave., also leases considerable space in the E. 23rd St. V.A. complex. Moreover, the V.A. residency program is fully integrated with the residencies of Bellevue and N.Y.U.

The Manhattan hospital, which operates 171 inpatient beds, includes six buildings interconnected by aboveground walkways. Built largely in the 1950s, the buildings are in fair to good condition, the report says.

The main building has 25,000 square feet of vacant space, and throughout the complex 49,000 square feet is leased to other institutions, 96 percent of it to N.Y.U.

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