KIPS BAY, Manhattan (PIX11) – The VA Medical Center on E. 23rd Street provides medical services for veterans, but it also does much more; it gave U.S. Army veteran Darryn Lubonsky a home.
“Eight years ago I was homeless,” Lubonsky said. “They found me an apartment. If they close this, where are we going to go? What are we going to do? Homeless veterans get good service from here.”
Lubonsky gets treated for his PTSD at the hospital and receives acupuncture treatment too.
Jacque Simon, policy director at the American Federation of Government Employees, says the Manhattan location is among hundreds of other VA clinics and medical centers across the country facing possible closure. Simon was joined by veterans and employees outside the VA Monday afternoon.
“We’re here trying to protest the so-called AIR commission which is a closure commission trying to dismantle veterans health care and privatize it throughout the country,” Simon said.
Going private is under the Mission Act, which was signed into law in 2018 by former President Donald Trump. Supporters say it was meant to give veterans more health care options, but the veterans protesting say they are happy with the care they currently receive from the VA.
Dawn Jemine-Garcia is a respiratory therapist at the Manhattan campus.
“Once this closes down, they’ll be so lost in the system in the private sector,” Jemine-Garcia said. “They’ll be just a number. Here, they’re a name. They’re Mr. Jones. They’re Mrs. Rodriguez.”
The Mission Act requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct market assessments of services and to find ways to cut costs.
“A commission will study those recommendations and congress will have a very, very short window to either vote them up or vote them down if the president decides to send those recommendations to the congress,” Simon added.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney was also at the VA on Monday and does not support the facilities shutting down.
“We should take care of our heroes and heroines,” Maloney said. “We should not cut back services for them.”
With homelessness and suicide rates high among veterans, they’re afraid those statistics will only increase if closures move forward.
PIX11 News reached out to the Manhattan VA for a statement and interim medical center director Bruce Tucker said:
“These are market assessment recommendations, any recommendations to the upcoming air commission are just that—recommendations. Veteran access to care is not changing now. Any potential changes to va is dependent on commission, presidential, and congressional decisions. Veterans will always be at the center of what we do.”