Proposed closure of VA medical center gets pushback
With the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs proposing a dramatic shift in where thousands of veterans in Massachusetts receive medical care, one state senator — a veteran himself — is threatening to call a public hearing if the Biden administration doesn't back off its plan.
Sen. John Velis, co-chair of the Committee and Veterans' and Federal Affairs, called the VA's plan to realign medical services in Massachusetts a "slap in the face." The Westfield Democrat focused on the recommendation that the medical center in Northampton be closed, and that services for the 24,000 veterans who received care there be shifted to clinics in Springfield and Newington, Conn.
"Transportation is already a challenge for our Veterans, and it is unconscionable that we would consider pushing them further away from the medical care that they so desperately depend on," Velis said in a statement.
While the recommendations published Monday are just the starting point in the process, Velis said if the plan continues to move forward he intends to call a public hearing and "do everything in my power to prevent this closure."
The VA said its recommendations were intended better align services in a more cost effective manner that accounts for a declining numbers of veterans seeking care in federal medical center and community clinics.
The plan also calls for a new medical center to be built in the "vicinity" of Bedford to replace the Bedford medical center, which was built in 1928 and requires $345.2 million in facility upgrades.
Services in Jamaica Plain would also be scaled back, with veterans redirected based on needs to facilities in Bedford, Brockton and West Roxbury, and community clinics in Lynn and Gloucester would be closed with services replaced by a new facility in Salem.
The Quincy VA clinic would also be closed, under the proposal, with patients redirected for care to South Weymouth.
Lynn's Director of Veteran Services Michael Sweeney told The Item Tuesday that the recommendation would make accessing care more difficult for veterans in that North Shore city.
"They say the multi-clinic recommendation would offer more expanded services for veterans," Sweeney told the newspaper. "Why can’t we do that in Lynn?"
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, in a statement, said she intended to work with Congress and the Biden administration to make sure any realignment doesn't make it harder for veterans to access care.
"Veterans deserve quality health care at VA facilities in their communities, and I'm deeply concerned that the VA has not been thoroughly engaging and communicating with veterans in Massachusetts about decisions impacting their health and their families," Warren said.