MONTROSE, N.Y. – Veterans and area political leaders had a clear message for the department of veterans affairs Thursday afternoon: the VA Hudson Valley Health Care System campus at Montrose must remain open.
Dozens of veterans joined Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi and members of her town board, as well as others including Buchanan Mayor Sean Murray and county Legislator John Testa (R-Peekskill) at a rally in front of the Montrose Campus.
Puglisi said that even though plans to sell off part of the property to a private developer in order to build condominiums had been scrapped, there was still a chance another such plan could arise.
"That plan was outrageous and it expired Dec. 31, 2011 which is good news but we have to stay on top of it," Puglisi said. "We must monitor it and remain vigilant to make sure that they don't ever try to do something this ridiculous and absurd again."
Cortlandt Veterans Committee Chairperson and Vietnam War veteran William Nazario said that the facility would be needed by the next generation of veterans when they return from Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Our children, when they come home from the battlefields, this had better be standing," Nazario said. "This had better be a full service hospital for them. It was promised to them, so let’s give it to them."
Nazario said that studies by veteran groups had shown that the VA services were underfunded and understaffed due to federal budget cuts in a time when one out of four non-combat military deaths is a suicide, and that rates of post-traumatic stress disorder were likely underestimated.
"They're looking for some way to balance the budget on the backs of those who have defended this nation," Nazario said. "We have to be forever vigilant."
Testa said he believed the VA was allowing the facility to fall apart over time.
"They are allowing certain structures over time to become so dilapidated that they have to be torn down and it will get to the point where (they will say), ‘Why do we have this place here when we have so much of it unusable?’” Testa said. "That's what the plan is and we can't let that happen."
Peekskill's George Ondek said he and other veterans chose to attend Thursday's event because they needed the services that the facility offered close by.
"They've farmed a lot of the clinics out to Castle Point or Kings Bridge and for many veterans who are 70, 80 or 90 years old it's a big inconvenience for them to travel that far if they have a disability," Ondek said. "I'm 70 and a Vietnam vet and I have a little disability and it's a problem, so we're trying to get the VA to bring back some of the clinics and we want to make sure the VA doesn't change its mind and sell this property to a developer."