Brooklyn VA Under Siege
by Jim Markson
It seems like the never ending story that always begins the same way: in denial. Yet slowly but surely in its own insidious way the attempts and results are the same, downsizing and more likely than not the closing of the Brooklyn VA facility. I can see it now: “Luxury Condos Coming Soon.”
The issue at stake now is the closing of the ear, nose, and throat (ENT) clinic. This kind of caught the Veterans Community off guard. Although there are regular meetings with VA and Veteran Organizations, there had been no mention of closing the Brooklyn ENT until recently--in other words until it was too late to do anything about it. VA management gave some lame excuse that they couldn’t staff it. Really?
This kind of chicanery comes as no surprise. In 2015 the Brooklyn VA announced it was closing its 12 West, a 25-bed inpatient care facility, for 15 months. Guess what? It never re-opened. One of the many reasons for the closing was that it wasn’t being used. The word from the rank and file VA employees and nurses union was a little different. Ambulances headed for the Brooklyn VA were being intentionally diverted to the Manhattan VA, to make it look like the facility wasn’t being used. I can recall a personal experience with this in September 2015.
The left side of my face had turned into silly putty. I panic, don’t know what's going on, next step Brooklyn VA emergency room. They take one look at me, they panic, think I’m having a stroke. But that didn’t prevent them from asking me, would I like to go to the Manhattan VA? Sure, I’ll just have my stroke while I’m waiting for the shuttle bus! I lucked out--it turned out to be Bells Palsy. But I had to spend 23 hours in the ER before I got a bed.
Interesting place, that emergency room. All kinds of situations coming and going at a rapid pace. The guy in the bed next to me calls for a Priest. Wonderful. As the Priest is leaving, he spots me.
“Are you Catholic?”
“I was raised Catholic but I don’t practice.”
“Would you like a blessing?”
I’ve got tubes, needles, and I don’t know what sticking out of numerous places all over my body and they still don’t know whats wrong with me. You can guess how I answered. Remember, there are no atheists in foxholes or hospital beds.
Brooklyn is home to 41,000 Veterans and the Brooklyn VA facility is one of 3 hospitals serving more than 220,000 Veterans living in the 5 boroughs. Many of these Veterans are from the Post 9/11 era, Iraq, the ongoing war in Afghanistan and God only knows where else. To this group, closing any ENT facility is nothing less than insult to injury! During these conflicts they were exposed to toxic smoke from burn pits and depleted uranium, the Agent Orange of the new generation of Vets.
In short, we don’t deserve reductions--increases are more like it. Unfortunately the closing of the Brooklyn ENT facility, because it was kept secret from the Veteran community, is inevitable. No appointments are given after June 22nd. That being said, everything that can be done will be done to see that it re-opens.
On another note, the ink isn’t even dry on the much touted $55 billion VA Mission Act and it is receiving fire from the National President of The Vietnam Veterans of America, of which I am a life member. And I quote: “the illusive oversight promised with the Veterans Choice program is still not in place.... Oversight with accountability is not spelled out to our satisfaction, who will be responsible? …. What are the penalties for violations of standards of care, malpractice, waste, fraud and abuse?”
Good Grief, will the turmoil ever end?
“When the peace treaty is signed, the War isn’t over for the Veterans, or the family. It’s just starting.” -- Karl Marlantes, USMC, Vietnam, Navy Cross. Author of New York Times top ten bestseller, Matterhorn.
***NOTE: This piece was first published in Our News, a community newspaper serving Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn.