By Miranda Reale
KINGSTON – A nationwide report released Monday, March 14th, from the Department of Veterans Affairs revealed the threat of severe changes for veterans care around the Hudson Valley. In the name of modernization, the report recommends the closing of a series of facilities, explicitly recommending the closing of the Castle Point VA medical center in Wappingers Falls. The closing of that facility, which is the only VA medical center in the Hudson Valley and combined with all of the other reductions proposed in the report, would be devastating to the veteran community. In a swift effort to act, veterans, community members, and elected officials gathered last Saturday in Kingston to rally against the changes outlined in the report. County Executive Pat Ryan was joined by Congressman Antonio Delgado, State Senator Michelle Hinchey, veterans, allies and partners to speak to the impact of these changes. “We are all here to jointly state, loud, clear, and early, that these cuts are completely unacceptable. We cannot and will not tolerate any reduction in services to our veterans,” County Executive Pat Ryan said.
Some of the services currently offered at Castle Point include: audiology and speech, cardiology, dermatology, gynecology, dental and oral surgery, gastroenterology, mental health care, COVID-19 vaccines, homeless veteran care, nutrition and diet care, pharmacy, primary care, and returning service care. But, as Gavin Walters, a local veteran who frequently utilizes the services at Castle Point, expressed last Saturday, Castle Point is much more than a place to receive medical care. “As I’m reading this, I’m emotional because it took awhile for me to actually go into the VA, this is really personal for myself. I can absolutely say that I don’t think I will go to the VA anymore if it leaves. The VA’s current proposal was established to keep our veterans and their families first when it comes to providing better care; but with care, doesn’t my voice as a veteran matter,” he asked.
The report’s recommendation to shift inpatient services from Castle Point to Montrose would make access points to care that are already limited even harder to come by, especially for those who currently find it difficult to make it to Castle Point. Proper care is not simply the services provided by an outpatient facility, but the support and community made possible by the facility. It is about the relationships and family created and developed. “It’s about us,” said Gavin Walters. “Castle Point campus evolved into a place that encompasses community and relationship, not just four walls or land.” He continued, “It’s a relationship that’s being built there, you’re building friendships. My life was saved because of it.”
The chair of Congressman Antonio Delgado’s veteran advisory committee, Malia Du Mont, echoed this sentiment when she spoke. “Veterans are a special population with unique needs and they need to be in community with each other in order to receive the full range of care that is necessary. It is not just seeing a doctor, it’s being in allegiance with fellow veterans.”
Following the announcement released on Monday, March 14th, Congressman Antonio Delgado immediately sent a letter with Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney Maloney expressing concerns. At the rally last Saturday, Congressman Delgado affirmed his view saying, “It’s imperative that any recommendation not include a reduction of services for the veterans in our district. The VA must not compromise the care of our veterans by closing facilities without sufficient and equally accessible replacement of those services. I will not support any plan that closes a VA facility here at home.”