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Proposal to slash services at Long Island’s Northport VA Hospital draws ire

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The Veterans Affairs medical center in Northport on Long Island.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has proposed drastic cuts at Long Island’s only VA hospital in Northport according to a new report, sparking a bipartisan backlash among lawmakers.

The report recommends that the Northport VA Medical Center shift most of its medical and surgical care to other hospitals as far away as Queens, and shut down its emergency room. Inpatient mental health care and residential nursing home care would continue, but a new clinic in western Suffolk County would take on urgent care.

The proposal is part of a sweeping overhaul that would close 17 VA hospitals across the country and open more than 30 new ones.

The goal is to “redesign VA health care to maximize access and outcomes for current and future generations of veterans,” according to a statement from Terrence Hayes, spokesperson for the VA.

“It is important to note that any recommendations… are just that — recommendations,” Hayes said. “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.”

Still, local lawmakers and veterans groups said they were blindsided by the report.

“I'm in favor of doing more things [for veterans’ health care] in the community, but I am not in favor of the Washington bureaucrats making a pronouncement and not discussing it with us first,” Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-NY) said, adding that local veterans are in the best position to know what services are needed and where. His district includes the Northport VA.

“I've worked very hard over the past five years to bring in millions of dollars to rebuild the emergency room, and they're talking about getting rid of the emergency room and moving into other facilities,” said Suozzi, who is running for governor. “We've brought in millions of dollars to fix up the HVAC system, and they want to close down some of those buildings.”

Other lawmakers also objected to the plan saying that critical care for veterans would be compromised, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who’s also running for governor and Long Island Congressman Andrew Garbarino (R-NY).

Long Island has one of the highest veteran populations in the state at about 100,000, and two-thirds of them are seniors.

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.