“Hands off the VA,” was a chant heard during a rally to attempt to save the Brooklyn VA Medical Center, 800 Poly Place, on Sunday, March 13, where U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Southwest Brooklyn-Staten Island) joined a crowd of veterans and local leaders to stop a proposal that would close the facility.
Veteran and Bay Ridge resident Mickey Wedlock has a long history with the facility. “Seven years ago, this VA saved my life,” he said. “I would not be here without this VA.”
“A lot of people don’t understand what actually goes on here,” he said. “It’s not just hospital rooms taking care of veterans. That’s one thing that goes on, but we have veterans meet in groups. We get together and talk about things that only veterans can talk to each other about. We come here five days a week to do that.”
He added that if the closure goes through, lack of public transportation would make it difficult for locals to get to other facilities, such as the James J. Peters Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Kingsbridge Road in the Bronx.
Danny Friedman, president of Brooklyn Vietnam Veterans of America, said he has been to the VA Medical Center since before he got out of the Army, since he was treated while he was on leave.
“This thing has got to stand and we have to stand with it,” he said. “Our motto is, ‘Never again will one generation of veterans turn our backs on the next.’ We are walking point for our younger veterans.”
According to the recommendations of the Veterans Administration’s Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission, over the next 10 years, the “Metro New York Market” enrollment is projected to decrease by 23.1 percent, suggesting the need for significantly fewer beds.
The proposal states, “Establishing a strategic collaboration to provide inpatient medical and surgical, outpatient surgical, and emergency department services and discontinuing these services at the Brooklyn VAMC [Veterans Affairs Medical Center].
“If unable to enter into a strategic collaboration, the Brooklyn VAMC will relocate care to current or future facilities or community providers: The population served by the Brooklyn VAMC is declining. Enrollment in Kings County, where Brooklyn is located, is projected to decrease by 21.7%, from 20,484 enrollees in FY 2019 to 16,043 enrollees in FY 2029,” the proposal said.
“This home, this is sacred ground,” veteran Mike Sulsona said. “It’s not just a hospital. My father was in this hospital. We have friends in this hospital.”
He said that he was treated at the Brooklyn facility for Hepatitis C and received blood transfusions there after getting hit in Vietnam.
“I was treated here,” he said. “We are looking for people that can do the job here at the VA. You must say they are determined. You don’t get blown off. You get a doctor, and you are their mission.”
Malliotakis, who told this paper about the proposal on March 10, said she was upset that a rally had to be held to help save the facility.
“I find it absolutely outrageous that on this cold Sunday afternoon, we have veterans from around the city of New York, predominantly from Brooklyn and Staten Island, who have to come out to send a clear message to the Biden administration that we will never accept the closure of this Brooklyn VA hospital,” she said. “Our veterans have given so much. So many come back with wounds, both mental and physical.
She added that 26 percent of all veterans nationwide have some sort of service-related disability. Forty percent of all younger vets post-911 that served in Iraq Afghanistan also come back with those disabilities, she said.
She’s hoping that President Joe Biden will consider the proposal which was released Monday, March 14, dead on arrival.
“The potential closure of the Brooklyn VA Medical Center is unacceptable,” Assemblymember Michael Tannousis (R-Southwest Brooklyn-Eastern Staten Island) said at the rally. “Our veterans have not been receiving the proper support that they deserve to begin with. The potential closure of this medical center is a slap in the face to the people that put their lives in harm’s way to protect us.”
The issue has spread and become bipartisan.
State Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bath Beach-Gravesend-Marine Park) and five other Southern Brooklyn elected officials raised concerns about the proposed closure and wrote a letter to Veterans Administration Secretary Denis McDonough.
“These brave southern Brooklynites have risked their lives and their health for our country. Now when they have returned to their homes, the very least we can do is ensure that they are able to access high-quality health care in their communities, rather than forcing them to travel far distances to receive the medical care they need,” said Gounardes. “I urge the VA to reject any plans that include the closure of this hospital.”
The letter was also signed by Tannousis; Councilmembers Justin Brannan and Ari Kagan; Assemblymembers Mathylde Frontus and Peter Abbate Jr.; and State Sen. Diane Savino.