V.A. brass backs saving hospital


By Albert Amateau

Efforts by elected officials and veterans groups to prevent the Department of Veterans Affairs from taking steps that could lead to the closing of the V.A. Medical Center on 23rd St. and First Ave. appear to be paying off.

Representative Carolyn Maloney said this week that V.A. Undersecretary Robert Roswell indicated in a face-to-face meeting with her in Washington on Friday that he agreed that the 350-bed hospital was an important health resource for veterans.

“He made a point of saying that he would recommend keeping the hospital open,” said Maloney. “He agreed that it was a top-quality hospital with important connections to research and education organizations like the Rusk Institute for Rehabilitative Medicine and New York University Medical Center.”

Roswell also recognized that the V.A. hospital has superior accessibility for veterans throughout the city, Maloney said.

“I’m going to continue to urge the V. A. Secretary Anthony Principi to keep all the services at the hospital until the final decision is made,” Maloney said.

Maloney met with Roswell on Oct. 17 with Representative Joseph Crowley, whose district includes parts of Queens and the Bronx, to plead on behalf of the 1.3 million Armed Services veterans in the region.

A V.A. commission is reviewing plans to restructure the department’s healthcare that could involve the closing of several hospitals around the country, including the Manhattan facility. The department is contemplating the transfer of all inpatients to the V.A. hospital in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and the transfer of many special services to hospitals in East Orange, N.J., the Bronx and Brooklyn. Remaining outpatient services would remain in the E. 23rd St. hospital or a different facility in Manhattan.

A City Council hearing on Sept. 16 convened by Councilmember Margarita Lopez attracted veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War who denounced the potential closing of the hospital. Veterans and politicians have mounted protests outside the hospital against its possible closing. The most recent, last Saturday, was organized by John Penley, a Vietnam veteran and East Village activist.

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