Panel hears bipartisan call to save VA hospitals

NEW YORK — On Sept. 19 the Veterans Administration Local Advisory Panel (LAP) met here to discuss a report by the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP that included proposals to close the city’s two VA hospitals, Manhattan and Brooklyn (Fort Hamilton).

Virtually every major elected official in New York City appeared before the committee to reject the proposed closings. In an unusual line-up, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Rep. Anthony Weiner, both Democrats, joined with right-wing Rep. Vito Fossella, Republican of Staten Island, to speak out strongly against the closing of either hospital. Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg also opposed the closings.

For some time now, Veterans for Peace and public health organizations have been pressuring Bloomberg and Fossella to keep both hospitals open. However, until the Sept. 19 hearing, Fossella had only supported keeping Fort Hamilton open, which happens, coincidentally, to be located in his district.

Weiner began his testimony by clearly stating, “VA hospital care cannot be sacrificed for profit-making in health care.” He paid tribute to the excellent care that has been provided by the two VA hospitals in the area, and said that, if anything, the ability of institutions to provide quality care should be expanded, not reduced or eliminated.

Bloomberg’s testimony included statistics showing there are 302,000 vets in the New York City area and 1.3 million in the tri-state area, which includes New Jersey and Connecticut. Approximately 13,000 troops are on active duty from this area, and at least 37 have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Andrew Broughton of the New York University School of Medicine testified on behalf of keeping the Manhattan VA hospital open. NYU has a physician-affiliation agreement there. His medical counterpart at the State University of New York in Brooklyn, which is affiliated with the Fort Hamilton VA hospital, spoke strongly in favor of keeping both VA institutions open.

Members of Veterans for Peace who testified at the hearing made a direct link between recently returning servicemen and women — and the tens of thousands of vets from previous wars and service — and the need for expanded VA health services. They opposed any cuts. George McAnanama of the N.Y. Veterans for Peace said, “Health care is a right, not a privilege.”