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In March 2022, VA Proposed Closing Proposal Castle Point VA Medical Center In Dutchess County – Without Consulting Local Vet Leaders – Jeopardizing Healthcare For Thousands Of Mid-Hudson Veterans

Schumer Immediately Called on VA Sec Lambasting 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: The Castle Point VA Hospital Is Staying Right Where It Is, Preserving Local Care For Hudson Valley Vets 

After standing shoulder to shoulder with Hudson Valley 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 nearly 7,000 Hudson Valley 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 Castle Point VA Medical Center in Dutchess County closure and relocating medical services for the Mid-Hudson facility, 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 Hudson Valley VA hospital from the chopping block.

“After months of fighting, I am pleased to announce the Castle Point VA Medical Center is staying open and right where it is. When I stood with our Hudson Valley 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 the veteran healthcare facilities in the Hudson Valley, not strip them away, and the previous plan missed the mark in ensuring the needs of our Mid-Hudson vets came first.  Our veterans fought for us, and that’s why I will always fight for them to ensure our veterans in the Hudson Valley 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 through 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 Castle Point VA Medical Center and relocation of inpatient medical and urgent care services for the veterans who currently use the facility. Castle Point VAMC currently serves over 7,000 veterans within a community of nearly 40,000 veterans in Orange, Dutchess, and Ulster counties, with over 52% of them being senior citizens. The plan also included recommendations to close VA facilities in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the shuttering of many services at the Northport VA hospital on Long Island.

Schumer immediately launched an all-out pushing, rallying with veterans across New York to prevent them from losing critical local care access. Schumer stood with dozens of veterans outside of Castle Point 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 Castle Point 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 Castle Point VA.

A copy of Schumer’s original letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough appears below:

Dear Secretary McDonough,

I write to express my strong opposition to the recommendations the Department of Veterans Affairs made to the AIR Commission to close the Castle Point VA Medical Center (VAMC) without soliciting adequate input from local community partners or providers in the Hudson Valley who support its ongoing operations and the larger veteran’s community. As the Asset and Infrastructure Review Commissions (AIR Commission) process continues, collaboration with local advocates and veterans who use these services will be critical in addressing top line issues such as, but not limited to, the overall quality of care, transportation for veterans, maintaining a community-driven approach to structure and support, and the maintaining a one stop campus within a high-quality multi-operation healthcare system.

As you know, the Castle Point VA Medical Center in Dutchess County is not just a doctor’s office; it is one stop service, a community hub, and an alliance between all veterans in the Hudson Valley. Castle Point VAMC currently serves over 7,000 veterans within a community of nearly 40,000 veterans in Orange, Dutchess, and Ulster counties, with over 52% of them being senior citizens. These facilities add critical capacity and are key providers for Hudson Valley veterans in need of a variety of inpatient services including its inpatient services include medical care and a community living center, and it also offers outpatient services.

Importantly, this February, GAO identified gaps in the data VA compiled and certified for the market assessments that were foundational for to determining both the supply of and demand for non-VA care that is provided by community providers. The VA must look at ease of access and by extension availability of transportation to any proposed new facility in any assessment going forward. For example, VetZero, a local non-profit that provides free rides for veterans to their VA appointments, has conducted over 414 rides since the start of 2022 and completed almost 1,100 rides in 2021 alone to veterans around the Hudson Valley. The current recommendations do not account for the key role community services like this play in ensuring veterans have access to care.  The stress that shutting down Castle Point VAMC and relocating services to distant facilities will severely burden non-profit programs that are already at capacity and ultimately leave veterans stranded and unable to reach critical medical services. We must remain vigilant in not only providing high quality healthcare for our veterans, but also ensuring that veterans can reach their care providers. If this care is disrupted, especially for example programs like group therapy sessions provided by Castle Point VAMC, we could see a large surge in mental health issues, higher rates of mortality in emergency medical situations and more throughout our Hudson Valley veterans’ community.

Given the recent GAO report and multiple veterans, community partners and advocates expressing deep concerns regarding the recent report recommending the closure of the Castle Point VA, the recent report represents a clear failure of improving key services and making meaningful change for the veterans in the Hudson Valley. Going forward, I urge you to work with community partners and veterans who are at the heart of the VA’s mission to develop alternate recommendations that more accurately reflect the critical needs for the Hudson Valley Veteran community.