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Schumer Statement For Local Advisory Panel On Montrose VAMC

Schumer Successfully Lobbied to Maintain Inpatient Domiciliary and Rehabilitation Services

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today testified via phone to the CARES Local Advisory Panel, outlining the importance of the community advisory board and his commitment to maintaining the critical services provided at Montrose VA hospital. Schumer, who visited the Montrose VA hospital and testified to the CARES Local Advisory Panel in 2003, successfully lobbied to maintain impatient domiciliary and rehabilitation services.

Statement of Senator Charles E. Schumer for the CARES Local Advisory Panel for the Montrose VAMC:

I thank the CARES Local Advisory Panel for allowing me to present this statement, and to express the hopes that I share with the Hudson Valleys veterans about the role that the proceedings of this panel will play in the development and implementation of a master plan to carry out the final phase of the CARES process.

Under the final CARES decision this panel, in cooperation with Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC), has been charged with developing alternatives to facilitate the Secretarys final CARES decision in regard to the Montrose campus. The decision improved upon the initial Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) plan, which would have moved all inpatient medical services from Montrose to Castle Point. Under the decision, Hudson Valley veterans would still be able to access outpatient, domiciliary, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and residential rehabilitation services at the Montrose Campus. However, it still calls for acute psychiatric, longterm psychiatric, and nursing home care to be transferred. While some of the unnecessary barriers to quality healthcare were removed in the Secretarys decision, I believe that this panel and PWC must continue to work closely with the community to ensure that the final result of the CARES process in Montrose is not just to maintain, but enhance the quality of veterans healthcare.

Despite the improvements in the Secretarys final decision, I am still deeply concerned that if not executed properly the plan to transfer services from Montrose will still sacrifice the ability to provide quality healthcare to those who have earned it through service to their country for the sake of cost cutting. For example, the families and friends of veterans who still require inpatient psychiatric and nursing home care would be forced to travel to Castle Point in Dutchess County, which is difficult for many from veterans from Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam Counties.

After the initial CARES plan was released, I talked extensively with local veterans and met with veterans leaders who had been heavily involved in developing CARES recommendations. I learned that the initial plan overruled the recommendations developed with local stakeholders, which called for keeping mental health outpatients, substance rehabilitation and PTSD residential care at Montrose. These programs have outstanding reputations at Montrose. It would make little sense to move them to Castle Point, which would have to construct new buildings to house them, and I am glad that the Secretarys decision largely recognized this.

The veterans I spoke to also recognized that some changes in service at the Montrose campus were needed and could be beneficial to veterans. In striving to make such changes and meet the goal of enhancing veterans healthcare in the Hudson Valley, I believe that this panel should continue to work with the community to address key unresolved issues before moving forward with any changes in service. These issues include:

1. What steps will be taken to guarantee that the Castle Point facility will have adequate space and financial resources to absorb the patients that would be transferred from Montrose? This question is especially relevant in light of the Administrations underfunding of veterans health care and the negative impact that the Veterans Equitable Resources Allocation (VERA) formula has had on New York.
2. Does the VA intend to expand services at Castle Point and Montrose, including longterm care and nursing home services, in order to address the aging veteran population in the Hudson Valley, which has one of the oldest population in the veterans healthcare system? Will there be sufficient services for the new generation of veterans returning home from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other theaters in the War on Terror?
3. Will veterans outpatient clinics in the Hudson Valley expand their services to include xrays, increasingly sophisticated testing, and light surgery? The opening this month of the clinic in Pine Plains, located in rural Dutchess County, was a positive step taken by the VA to expand its system of outpatient clinics, which make simple health care more easily accessible to our veterans. These clinics serve an important function, and they must continue to be expanded and enhanced under any CARES implementation.

I posed many of these questions in my previous testimony to the CARES Commission, and continue to strongly believe that they need to be definitively answered before moving forward.

Reducing services at Montrose may have a significantly detrimental effect on veterans healthcare in the Hudson Valley, particularly at a time when the population is expected to increase. It would be impractical, and unfair, to force some veterans and their families to travel greater distances and experience longer waits to receive care, and I am afraid that is what will occur with the transfer of inpatient services from Montrose to Castle Point. I am also greatly concerned by the reliance on estimates regarding the cost to renovate Castle Point in anticipation of its new responsibilities. The current Administration has made significant cuts to spending on veterans healthcare, creating an unpredictable climate in which funding for capital construction projects is unsure and there is no identification of which construction projects will receive priority consideration.

In order to prevent the establishment of barriers to veterans healthcare, I believe it is crucial that this panel work to adequately answer the question of how the much smaller Castle Point facility will accommodate the patient load it is slated to assume from Montrose. If these factors are not addressed the renovations and changes in service that a transfer to Castle Point would require could severely compromise the quality of patient care. Such an outcome would be unacceptable.

Another missing piece of the puzzle concerns the future of the Montrose property itself. There is a dire need in Westchester and the region for affordable housing for veterans. The Montrose campus is well suited for such use. However, veterans are concerned that housing might be built only for middle and higher income veterans, leaving behind the lowerincome veterans who already are struggling to stay in the area. Some veterans have raised the concern that Montroses beautiful waterfront campus on the Hudson River might be sold off by the VA instead of being used for veterans housing and medical care. I believe that Montrose should remain a facility dedicated to serving the needs of veterans, and would oppose any effort by the VA to sell the property. The Secretarys final CARES decision included the consideration in the master plan of enhanced use leasing to develop an assisted living complex on the campus. I urge you to give this type of proposal the utmost consideration and make sure it addresses the increasingly acute housing crisis facing lowincome veterans in the Hudson Valley.

This nation made a pact with the generations of brave men and women who have served in the armed forces. In return for their service, we would take care of them when they got back.

We need to make good on this promise by providing the highest quality health care to our veterans. That means ensuring that the master plan for the Montrose campus does not move forward until all outstanding issues are resolved and the enhancement of veterans healthcare in the Hudson Valley has been guaranteed.

I thank the Panel for the opportunity to present testimony at todays hearings.