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Connecticut VA clinics ready for upgrades after deadly 2020 West Haven pipe explosion

Three sons of the late John McGuirk cut a ceremonial ribbon, rededicating the new New London VA clinic in their father's name.
Brian Scott-Smith
WSHU Public Radio
Three sons of the late John McGuirk cut a ceremonial ribbon, rededicating the new New London VA clinic in their father's name.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) wants hundreds of millions of dollars for major upgrades at the VA hospital in West Haven after a deadly steam pipe explosion two years ago. A Veterans Affairs commission report last month recommended upgrades to the VA facilities in West Haven, Newington and New London.

Blumental said the 67-year-old facilities at the West Haven campus need to be modernized. Plans are already underway for a new surgical facility and an additional 300 parking spaces.

Blumenthal has blamed the 2020 steam pipe explosion on aging infrastructure and said he’ll push for funding to replace steam pipes and electrical wiring.

“We know from the unfortunate, really tragic explosion that occurred in the steam function that we need to do a lot of replacing and reconstructing in the invisible parts of these buildings,” Blumenthal said at the West Haven VA on Wednesday.

He was not clear on an exact price tag, but a design team has already projected the West Haven renovations at least $500 million.

In New London, Blumenthal joined local veterans and leaders to re-dedicate a newly expanded VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic. The New London clinic was the first-of-its-kind to open in Connecticut back in 1994, and is now among five others in the state.

The center is named after John J. McGuirk, who was a Navy diver during World War II and an advocate for veteran’s healthcare in southeastern Connecticut.

Blumenthal said centers like these are vital.

“It is an outpatient clinic but it is also a means of outreach and too many of our veterans who don’t know about it, don’t want to use it,” Blumenthal said. “They need to know that there is real treatment here for what is important to their quality of life.”

One of McGuirk’s sons, also named John, said what having this clinic had meant to his father.

“He loved the idea of an outreach center,” McGuirk said. “To him it was so obviously needed. And this was the first one they had, and he fought hard and now you have six of them.”

The newly expanded center has tripled in size to 15,000 square feet and offers primary care and specialized care services to over 5,000 local veterans. New London County has the highest density of military veterans than anywhere else in the state.

The VA’s commission report for the New York region has drawn backlash from lawmakers on Long Island due to proposed cuts at the Northport VA.

An award-winning freelance reporter/host for WSHU, Brian lives in southeastern Connecticut and covers stories for WSHU across the Eastern side of the state.
Desiree reports on the lives of military service members, veterans, and their families for WSHU as part of the American Homefront project. Born and raised in Connecticut, she now calls Long Island home.