Reduction of Critical Services at Brooklyn VA Medical Center?

brooklyn-va-medical-center.jpgAn alarming business plan to reduce critical services for veterans at the Brooklyn VA Medical Center (VAMC) is being circulated amongst the NYC veterans community this week, and we urge our community and elected officials to take note and voice concern. 

In the business plan, the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System proposes to change its Brooklyn campus surgery office from “Complex” to “Ambulatory Advanced,” stating that the current Brooklyn inpatient surgical cases can be accommodated at the Manhattan VAMC without affecting access to care or wait times. This effectively ends surgical services at the Brooklyn VAMC. The business plan is signed by NYHHS Director Martina Parauda, with an implementation date of July 1, 2017. It is unclear how much of the plan has been implemented to date. 

Recent contraction of VA services in Brooklyn has already been very concerning. In 2015, the Brooklyn VAMC closed a 25-bed inpatient wing because it was too expensive to staff and keep open, despite outcry from Staten Island and Brooklyn veterans who rely on the Brooklyn VAMC. Last year, the Harbor Healthcare System closed an outpatient facility on Chapel Street in Downtown Brooklyn, which many underserved veterans relied on for a sense of community as well as meals and ongoing healthcare. Patients were assured that there would be regular shuttle bus service to bring them to Manhattan, but we’ve heard anecdotally that those shuttle buses were not adequate to provide Brooklyn patients with access to the Manhattan VAMC. 

Over the last year, we’ve heard anecdotally from our members that ambulance service to the Brooklyn VAMC has largely been diverted to Manhattan—which may explain the reduction in emergency cases at the Brooklyn VAMC. If ambulances aren’t allowed to bring emergencies to your door, there is certainly a reduction in emergencies being serviced. Now that reduction in emergency cases is being used to justify the most significant reduction in services in recent memory of a major NYC VA facility, potentially jeopardizing access to care for thousands of veterans.  

Contraction of services available in Brooklyn has been a hardship for veterans in the outer boroughs, and it is appalling that there is an over-reliance on the Manhattan VAMC. The Manhattan VAMC is not only difficult to access by car or train, particularly for elderly and disabled veterans from the outer boroughs—it also took years to recover from Hurricane Sandy, and it appears to remain vulnerable to rising sea levels and higher intensity storms that could shut it down completely. For months and even years after Sandy, patients who relied on care at the Manhattan VAMC had to travel to the Brooklyn VAMC for care—but now it looks like the Brooklyn campus won’t be there for them when the next storm brings a shutdown.

Adrienne Brammer, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and is the OurVeterans.NYC Program Manager for the NYC Veterans Alliance, stated: “In the aftermath of Sandy, I remember the crowds waiting for shuttle buses from Manhattan to access care at the Brooklyn VAMC, which is now being dismantled before our eyes. I can only imagine how hard it will be for veterans to get from Brooklyn or Staten Island to Manhattan.” 

Vietnam veteran and Staten Island resident Lee Covino, a lifelong veteran advocate and member of the NYC Veterans Alliance, stated, "Just when you think that its going to be clear sailing for vets receiving medical care, it is assaulted by the likes of this proposal."  

Kristen Rouse, Afghanistan veteran and Brooklyn resident, and Founding Director of the NYC Veterans Alliance, stated: “With ongoing complications in the approval process for the Choice program and the NYHHS telling veterans to simply go to Manhattan for care—the message for veterans in Staten Island and Brooklyn seems to be, ‘stay home whenever you can—but make the trek to Manhattan if you’re desperate enough.’”

To express your concern, please contact:

Your Member of Congress

Sen. Gillibrand and Sen. Schumer

Patrick Malloy, NYHHS Chief of Staff at 212-686-7500 X7100 or [email protected]