By Miranda Reale
WAPPINGERS FALLS – A plan proposed this March that recommended the closing of Castle Point VA Medical Center located in Wappingers Falls has been affirmatively shut down. Following a collective statement issued from Senators on June 27th, Sen. Jon Tester, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee had the support of other committee members that effectively ended the commission’s agenda. Opposition to the original Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission (AIR Commission), preliminary recommendations that could have closed the facility and relocate outpatient medical and urgent care services was backed by Sen. Joe Manchin, Sen. Mike Rounds, Sen. Martin Heinrich, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Sen. Maggie Hassan, Sen. John Thune, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Sen. Patty Murray, Sen. Steve Daines, Sen. Ben Ray Luján and Sen. Rob Portman who were all included in the statement.
“As Senators, we share a commitment to expanding and strengthening modern VA infrastructure in a way that upholds our obligations to America’s veterans,” the joint statement said. “We believe the recommendations put forth to the AIR Commission are not reflective of that goal, and would put veterans in both rural and urban areas at a disadvantage, which is why we are announcing that this process does not have our support and will not move forward.
In Ulster County alone, more than 11,000 veterans utilize the facility for treatment, and the threat of closing Castle Point loomed over veterans for months as the recommendations from the AIR Commission was released in March, immediately producing strong outcries from veteran communities in the Hudson Valley. The consequences of the report could have relocated inpatient services from Castle Point to Montrose, making an already strained accessibility to care even more challenging; but most importantly and perhaps more subtly, the commission’s recommendations read as a calculated disloyalty to veterans. An opportunity to collect public testimonies from veterans was organized in April by former Congressman Antonio Delgado and Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan at New Paltz’s VFW accumulated more than twenty comments with the majority of them directed at Delgado’s and Ryan’s duty to protect the veteran population. One veteran who spoke demanded former Congressman Delgado to bring back a message to Washington, D.C. “I’m only hoping that this meeting today is not political smoke. I hope we have enough fight to continue to keep Castle Point open. I take this very personally, they’re trying to make these veterans feel like second class citizens.” Another impassioned testimony also directed at Delgado said, “Congressman I’m leaving it up to you. You are our mouthpiece, us veterans have nowhere to go.”
In light of maintaining Castle Point VA Medical Center, Ryan said, “The outcry from veterans and residents on the ground helped end a proposal that was simply unacceptable. However, the fight is not over. Now we must push even harder for real investments to strengthen our regional VA services.” Though those who spoke in April left feeling uncertain about whether their efforts would reach Senators, the outcome proved that the power of the moment was capitalized on.