Union workers, Maloney rally to stop Manhattan VA hospital closure

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City Council Member Keith Powers and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney rallied on Monday against the proposed closure of Manhattan’s VA hospital.
Photo by Max Parrott

Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) joined with government union workers and veterans on Monday outside the Manhattan VA Medical Center to protest a recent Veterans Affairs report that recommends closing the facility and outsourcing its services to nearby hospitals.

In response to the proposed cost-cutting measures, the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents the medical center employees, called on members of Congress to take action to prevent the VA from enacting the recommendations. Maloney joined the rally and pledged to help stop the closure.

“It’s an outrage to us all and it’s gotta stop. Our veterans should be able to seek healthcare services in one location,” Maloney said at the rally.

Last month, Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough issued recommendations, which will be reviewed by the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission, a board created as a result of the 2018 VA MISSION Act tasked with assessing the state of VA services. 

McDonough’s recommendations include closing VA medical centers in Brooklyn and Manhattan and rerouting the services by means of “strategic collaborations” to other medical service providers in the area. 

In addition to the concern that the closure would deny veterans their preferred choice in health care providers and worsen their care, the union decried the possibility that the disclosure would cause mass layoffs within their rank and file.

“You would start to see a lot of our employees, who are a significant portion of veterans themselves, be disenfranchised and pushed out of their jobs,” Justin Brown, an AFGE legislative political coordinator, told amNewYork Metro.

A spokesperson for the VA said that it was too early to know exactly what the impacts of the recommendations might be.

“VA will remain in this market, and will remain in all of our health care markets. It is important to note that any recommendations to the upcoming AIR Commission are just that – recommendations. Nothing is changing now for veteran access to care or VA employees. Any potential changes to VA’s health care infrastructure may be several years away and are dependent on Commission, Presidential, and Congressional decisions, as well as robust stakeholder engagement and planning,” wrote VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes.

“Veterans will always be at the center of what we do. The AIR Commission is an opportunity to redesign VA health care to maximize access and outcomes for current and future generations of Veterans. In the long run, AIR recommendations could impact VHA facilities and staff, but 

A report on the VA facilities in New York estimated that the Manhattan facility’s deficiencies are approximately $396.6 million. Speakers at the event criticized the findings of the report, which was conducted pre-pandemic in 2019 and was compiled by a private contractor, according to AFGE.

“Where’s the accountability for the mismanagement? This is nothing but another attempt at privatization,” said Kevin Lapham, an AFGE representative. 

The most immediate hope for the supporters at the rally is for the U.S. Senate to stop the AIR Commission from materializing by refusing to confirm the remainder of individuals who have been nominated to serve the board and ending the process there.

Maloney said at the rally that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has expressed his adamant opposition to the VA’s recommendations. However, if the New York senator cannot convince enough of his colleagues to join the cause and the Senate does end up confirming all of the members of the commission, the process could continue. 

In that case, the AIR Commission is supposed to hold public hearings at all the places where facilities would end up shuttered or otherwise affected by the recommendations. Jacqueline Simon, AFGE’s public policy director, said however that the commission’s budget and timetable would make it difficult to present a significant challenge to recommendations through this process.

After the public comment period, the recommendations would go to President Biden, who would decide whether or not to put the matter before Congress.

“We are here today to send a strong message to the Congress of the United States that we intend to fight this closure commission until it’s dead on arrival,” said Everett Kelly, National President of the AFGE.