US Senate News:
Source: United States Senator for New York Charles E Schumer
In March 2022, VA Proposed Closing Manhattan & Brooklyn VA Medical Centers Without Consulting Local Vet Leaders—Jeopardizing Healthcare For Local Veterans
Schumer Immediately Called on VA Sec To Drop The Plan; Now, Key Senate Members Have Officially Announced The Independent AIR Commission, Which Called On VA To Create This Closure Plan, Will Not Move Forward
Schumer: Manhattan & Brooklyn Hospitals Are Staying Open, Preserving Local Care For Vets
After standing shoulder to shoulder with local veterans in March to fight this proposal, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer today announced that the independent Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission process will not move forward, protecting the healthcare services for local veterans.
Earlier this year the Commission called on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to submit its proposal to the Commission which recommended closing the Manhattan and Brooklyn VA Medical Centers, leaving local veterans without a clear plan for the future of their healthcare and community services. Now, after Schumer’s advocacy, key Senate leaders, including the chairman and members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, have announced they will not support the AIR Commission moving forward, all but eliminating the Commission and saving the Manhattan and Brooklyn VA hospitals from the chopping block.
“After months of fighting, I am pleased to announce that the Manhattan and Brooklyn VA Medical Centers are staying open and right where they are. When I stood with our local vets, I promised them I would not let this plan, to rip away local treatment without consulting local leaders and no interim care plan, become a reality. I am proud to say a promise made is now a promise kept,” said Senator Schumer. “We must invest further in bolstering our veteran healthcare facilities, not strip them away, and the previous plan missed the mark in ensuring the needs of our local vets came first. Our veterans fought for us, and that’s why I will always fight for them to ensure our veterans in New York City and across New York receive the top-notch high-quality local care that they earned and deserve.”
Schumer explained that in 2018, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law the VA MISSION Act, which included many provisions to improve VA healthcare. The law also included, however, a requirement for the VA to research, develop and publish a series of recommendations to modernize VA medical facilities—including facility expansions, relocations, closures or changes in services. Those recommendations would then be reviewed by the presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed AIR Commission, which would then report its views of the recommendations to the President.
In March 2022, the VA AIR Commission released its preliminary recommendations, which included the closure of the Manhattan and Brooklyn VA Medical Centers, and the shuttering of many services at the Northport VA hospital on Long Island.
Schumer immediately launched an all-out push, rallying with veterans across New York to prevent them from losing access to critical local care. Schumer stood with dozens of veterans outside the Manhattan VA Medical Center to call on the VA to reverse course and immediately begin to work with local leaders. Senator Schumer also wrote directly to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough to highlight these concerns and urged the VA to rework their recommendations to keep the Manhattan and Brooklyn VA Medical Centers open to the benefit of veterans across New York.
Yesterday, after months of Schumer’s advocacy, the bipartisan Senate members including the Chair and members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee announced their formal opposition to the VA AIR Commission Process, stating:
“As Senators, we share a commitment to expanding and strengthening modern VA infrastructure in a way that upholds our obligations to America’s veterans. We believe the recommendations put forth to the AIR Commission are not reflective of that goal, and would put veterans in both rural and urban areas at a disadvantage, which is why we are announcing that this process does not have our support and will not move forward. The Commission is not necessary for our continued push to invest in VA health infrastructure, and together we remain dedicated to providing the Department with the resources and tools it needs to continue delivering quality care and earned services to veterans in 21st century facilities—now and into the future.”
Without the approval of these members and the Senate, the Commission and its nominees, no Commission can be established and the process cannot move forward, signifying the end of the AIR Commission, and thus preserving the Manhattan and Brooklyn VAs.
A copy of Schumer’s original letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough upon the proposal’s release appears below:
I write to express my strong opposition to the references the Department of Veteran’s Affairs made to closing the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Castle Point VA Medical Centers (VAMC) in its recommendations to the Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission (AIR Commission). Such recommendations would severely undermine the Department’s mission to deliver world-class care to veterans in every area of our nation, and especially in New York City, Brooklyn, Staten Island and the Hudson Valley. As the Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission process proceeds, I strongly urge you to reconsider the published closure recommendations and work with the Commission, the President and Congress to preserve the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Castle Point VAMCs so that New York veterans will continue to receive high quality care in their communities.
As you know, the 2018 MISSION Act included the creation of the AIR Commission alongside other, much-needed reforms of the VA such as establishing veterans’ access to community-based physicians and hospitals, expanding the VA’s family caregiver program and improving the VA’s ability to deliver care via telehealth. The AIR Commission is intended to modernize the VA’s infrastructure so that it can better serve veterans across the country through increased care access, higher quality facilities and more varied service types that meet our veterans’ needs. The first step of this process required the Department to develop recommendations for the Commission, informed by the VA’s market assessment process which was performed over the course of the last two years. The Department published these recommendations on Monday March 14th, 2022.
In this publication, the Department included three recommendations to close the Brooklyn VAMC, Manhattan VAMC and Castle Point VAMC, all of which are located within 19 miles of each other. These three hospitals currently serve over 40,000 veterans between New York, Kings and Dutchess Counties in which they are located. Beyond these populations, the hospitals are critical to serving the needs of over 138,000 veterans who live in the New York City metro area, over 70% of whom are senior citizens. While the VA claims that they project an over 20% drop in VA health care enrollees in these areas, I have grave doubts these projections will bear out as they directly counter wider population trends in these same counties. These facilities add critical capacity and are key providers for New York City veterans in need of a variety of inpatient and outpatient services including mental health care, rehabilitation medicine and medical and surgical care.
While the VA has completed its statutory obligation to assess, develop and provide public recommendations to the AIR Commission, Congress and the public, your Department’s expertise will be called upon throughout each remaining step of this process. I ask that you work with my office going forward to review the underlying data informing the Department’s original recommendations and consider alternative recommendations that more accurately reflect the vital roles the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Castle Point VAMCs play in serving New York veterans and ultimately adopt new recommendations that preserve these hospitals to the benefit of veterans.
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer