Queens councilman fights to keep city Veterans Administration hospitals open

Councilman Robert Holden at Memorial Day event in 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Just ahead of Memorial Day, all members of the New York City Council joined together to send a letter to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), urging the agency to keep the Veterans Administration hospitals in Manhattan and Brooklyn open. 

In March, the DVA suggested closing two out of the seven hospitals in New York City. The DVA projected that over the next 10 years, the Metro New York Market enrollment will decrease by 23.1%, suggesting the need for fewer beds. The Brooklyn, Queens and Bronx VA hospitals serve the largest populations. 

Though the City Council is not entirely sure what would happen to the two facilities, the DVA has suggested downsizing and privatizing the Manhattan VA while completely closing the Brooklyn hospital. The Brooklyn VA would transfer services to St. Albans.

Councilman Robert Holden, who was appointed to be chair of the Committee on Veterans earlier this year, said he is advocating and communicating with DVA and elected officials at every level in an attempt to keep these facilities operational. 

“I’m proud that every single one of my colleagues in the council agreed to sign on and ask the VA to keep them open,” Holden said. “In these polarizing times, it speaks volumes about the obvious importance of keeping these facilities open.”

Though the DVA has estimated a decrease in the need for VA services, Holden argued the opposite. 

“New York City is home to over 20,000 veterans and active-duty service members,” Holden said. “Seventy-one percent are already over the age of 55. As our veterans continue to age, they will have an increasing need for accessible health care.”

The care that these two hospitals provide is largely free of cost and highly specialized for veterans’ needs. The Manhattan location offers inpatient mental health care, rehabilitation medicine, surgeries and more. The Brooklyn VA is a surgical and psychiatric facility with 153 beds. 

The DVA estimated that the Manhattan location will lose 92.4 enrollees by 2029. The Manhattan facility costs about $19.3 million to maintain and operate annually. The Brooklyn location is expecting to lose over 20% of enrollees over the same time period.

DVA also noted in a report that these two facilities are extremely inaccessible to veterans right now. The Manhattan VA has no parking, and the Brooklyn location is on the southwestern tip of the borough while most veterans live in central and eastern Brooklyn. The Brooklyn VA costs about $16.3 million in annual operation.

Councilman Keith Powers, who represents the district where the Manhattan VA is located, said that he is proud to stand with Holden in sending this letter to the DVA.

“As a city home to hundreds of thousands of veterans, it’s imperative that we’re supporting the needs of those that have valiantly served our country,” Powers said. 

Councilman Justin Brannan, representing parts of Brooklyn, also took a firm stance in opposition to the potential closures. 

“The VA hospital in my district provides excellent local care to veterans from Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens and beyond,” Brannan said. “Its location here in the neighborhood has long stood as a symbol of the community’s commitment to our past and present service members. We should be building up its capacity, not tearing the whole thing down.”

The City Council’s letter cited data found in a British Medical Journal to underline the value of the Manhattan and Brooklyn facilities. According to the data, veterans treated at VA facilities are 20% less likely to die the following year, compared to veterans treated at private-sector hospitals. The disparity increased for African American and Hispanic veterans, the letter states. On top of that, the cost of private healthcare is 21% higher than care administered by the VA.

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