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Veterans medical center in Northampton will stay open after U.S. senators disband commission

Veteran Tom Patrick, right, protests a plan to close the V.A. medical center in Northampton, Mass.
Karen Brown
Veteran Tom Patrick, right, protests a plan to close the V.A. medical center in Northampton, Mass.

Western Massachusetts lawmakers are praising a decision by a group of U.S. senators that will allow the VA medical center in Northampton to stay open.

In March, the federal Asset and Infrastructure Commission, tasked with streamlining facilities at the Department of Veterans Affairs, had recommended closing the medical center in the Leeds section of Northampton. The commission said veterans could be served elsewhere.

Veterans, union leaders and legislators vowed to fight the closure, saying the additional travel would be a burden and medical treatment could be compromised.

"The veterans who have PTSD — several veterans reached out to me raising the alarm of, 'Look, it took me years and years and years to open up about what I saw in Iraq or Afghanistan or Vietnam,'" said state Sen. Jon Velis, D- Westfield, senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. "'And if you're telling me now, I have to start over with a different doctor, with a different psychiatrist, and I have to travel a lot further to do that, chances are...I'm just not going to go through with that.'"

This week, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators disbanded the commission, which put an end to the overhaul before there were any public hearings.

In some ways, Velis said, that move was drastic.

"I'm a big believer in a process," he said, "but at the same time, if you make me choose between this process and the number of veterans and their family members who would have been in a really bad way, I'm perfectly content with it."

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, said in a statement that he will "continue to do whatever I can to block any legislative attempts to shut down the Leeds VA and take care away from our veterans."

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.