NORTHPORT, N.Y. -- The Department of Veterans Affairs is proposing big changes to the massive system that administers health care to the nation's 9 million enrolled vets.
Recommendations include the consolidation of services and expansions to better serve, but as CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported Wednesday, proposed changes on Long Island are not sitting well with veterans.
"Everything is here, and people don't like change," Vietnam veteran Bill McKenna said.
McKenna said he is concerned for Long Island's 55,000 vets who use the Northport VA Medical Center because the proposed changes significantly scale back services.
"They are very concerned that they will lose the services they have here and it will be more difficult to get where they have to go," McKenna said.
A just-released report assessing the entire system recommends for Long Island:
- Closing the Northport emergency room and sending patients to local hospitals
- Moving urgent care to a new facility in Commack
- Moving surgery to other hospitals
- Moving inpatient rehab to Queens
Congressman Lee Zeldin, a veteran himself, welcomes better options for veterans' health care, but said these drastic changes go too far.
"In no way, shape or form should we ever be making any aspect of providing care any worse, and what I fear is that these recommendations, if implemented in total, would end up resulting in a negative impact for our veterans," Zeldin said.
The VA said it received input from stakeholders but, "Completely blindsided. This is a bombshell that was dropped in our lap," Congressman Tom Suozzi said.
Suozzi just helped pour millions into Northport to update the emergency room and century-old buildings.
The VA said its plan would alleviate the need for $600 million more in repairs, adding its goal is to provide "access to high quality and conveniently located care in modern infrastructure."
"What's important is that this not be done by Washington bureaucrats and this is done by local people with local input," Suozzi said.
McKenna, still sickened by agent orange, fears losing the one-stop help aging veterans need.
"Our veterans should be cared for first, and the bean counters in Washington should think about that," McKenna said.
Any changes are still years away. A presidential commission will review the plan and hold public hearings before submitting its own recommendations next year.
The VA is also recommending closing the Manhattan and Brooklyn VA medical centers, contracting out inpatient services to private medical providers, and closing the VA medical center in Wappingers Falls.
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