STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — To the relief of hundreds of thousands of military veterans, Veteran Affairs (VA) hospitals are no longer on the chopping block.
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators — including the chair and members of the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee — released a statement on Tuesday rejecting the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission’s proposals to close several VA medical centers across the nation, marking the end of the commission.
“As Senators, we share a commitment to expanding and strengthening modern VA infrastructure in a way that upholds our obligations to America’s veterans. 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, which is why we are announcing that this process does not have our support and will not move forward,” the senators wrote.
“The Commission is not necessary for our continued push to invest in VA health infrastructure, and together we remain dedicated to providing the Department with the resources and tools it needs to continue delivering quality care and earned services to veterans in 21st century facilities— now and into the future,” the statement continued.
The AIR Commission was met with fierce opposition from veterans, advocates and officials when it released its recommendations to “modernize and realign” its Veterans Integrated Services Networks, including closing the VA medical centers in Manhattan and Brooklyn, in March.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was happy to share the news on Tuesday that his “full-scale advocacy plan” to protect the VA hospitals was not in vain.
“After months of fighting, I am pleased to announce that the Manhattan and Brooklyn VA Medical Centers are staying open and right where they are. When I stood with our local vets, I promised them I would not let this plan, to rip away local treatment without consulting local leaders and no interim care plan, become a reality. I am proud to say a promise made is now a promise kept,” Schumer said.
“We must invest further in bolstering our veteran health-care facilities, not strip them away, and the previous plan missed the mark in ensuring the needs of our local vets came first. Our veterans fought for us, and that’s why I will always fight for them to ensure our veterans in New York City and across New York receive the top-notch high-quality local care that they earned and deserve,” the senator added.
‘WE WILL CONTINUE TO BE VIGILANT AND VOCAL’
Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island/South Brooklyn), who also took up the fight to save the Brooklyn and Manhattan VA medical centers in March, expressed approval for the senators’ vow but emphasized that the fight to protect veteran services must continue.
“I’ve been working diligently with veterans’ organizations and House and Senate lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to stop these proposed closures and protect the services so many veterans in our community rely on,” she said in a statement. “The Senate’s commitment to block the AIR Commission’s recommendations is a key victory, however, we will continue to be vigilant and vocal and won’t stop working to protect these facilities until the President definitively says any proposal from the AIR commission is dead on arrival.”
Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella, who has also been advocating to protect veteran medical carecommented on the impact on Staten Island veterans in particular.
“From the first moment this was raised, we stood shoulder to shoulder united with Veterans across Staten Island to pledge to them that we would fight to keep these crucial facilities open. The proposal from the commission would also force all Staten Island Veterans to travel to New Jersey for care. We cannot do that to our Veterans and their families,” he said.
“We are pleased that for now this proposal appears to be off the table, but we will remain committed to our Veteran community in the event this recommendation comes up again,” Fossella added.
Democratic congressional candidate and combat veteran Max Rose also released a statement on Tuesday expressing his approval for the senators’ decision.
“As someone who uses the VA and has seen firsthand the specialized care that only they can provide for veterans like me, I applaud the Senate V.A. committee throwing out this disastrous bureaucratic proposal that would have ripped healthcare away from thousands of veterans,” he said.
Rose also led rallies with fellow veterans and advocate groups in the spring, where they spoke of their personal connection to the issue and how it would impact their lives.