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Fighting mad: Veterans protest planned closure of hospital wing

Loud and Clear: Protesters made their voices heard to the powers that be.
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Brooklyn’s war veterans are up in arms over budget cuts that will shutter a wing of the borough’s veterans hospital.

More than 100 protesters marched in front of the main gate of the Brooklyn Veterans Affairs Hospital in Fort Hamilton on June 22 to voice their anger with the system they risked their lives to protect.

“We should not be affected by budget cuts,” said Mike Decataldo, a Vietnam veteran, during his speech at the rally. “We were the ones who fought for them to even be here.”

Even after a town-hall-style meeting with Veterans Affairs Director Martina Parauda, veterans and the nurses who care for them worried about how the proposed 15-month closure of the 25-bed 12 West inpatient surgical unit will mean for where and how the borough’s war heroes will be getting their care.

“This is a reckless decision,” said Sam Aldi, a registered nurse, “because the VA isn’t accommodating to anyone at the Brooklyn and Manhattan campuses.”

Parauda insists that daily traffic in the hospital is mostly for the outpatient services, and that veterans will continue to get the high-quality care they have been used to.

“That’s the way things are going,” she said, “With modern healthcare, the need for inpatients has decreased.”

Parauda pointed out that on the morning of the protest there were 33 empty beds on the floor.

“If a patient has to be transferred to Manhattan it will definitely be an exception, not the rule,” she said.

Hospital administrators also claim that none of the registered nurses will lose their jobs because of the wing’s temporary closure, but staffers said local options for the displaced are slim.

“I’m here to tell you that 17 RNs will be displaced because of this closure, and only six Brooklyn positions are open to them,” said Robyn Pegues, a registered nurse at the hospital for more than 15 years.

For the veterans, the closure would represent a lost battle in a fight on the homefront that takes a toll on their morale — and their faith in the system they went to war to defend.

“For those [of us] who made it home, we’re fighting for what we deserve,” said Al Demarco Jr., a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War. “[They] want to cut services here? [They] want to take our beds? Maybe they don’t understand what it really means to be a veteran.”

But Brooklyn vets gained a big gun as an ally on June 24, when Sen. Charles Schumer (D–New York) blasted the Department of Veterans Affairs for what he called a secretive process in deciding on the closure, and called for its reversal.

“I am deeply troubled by the secretive and rushed manner in which this significant change in veteran health care services was developed,” Schumer wrote to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald.

A more local leader sounded a cynical note about the department’s plans for veteran’s healthcare.

“They’re hell bent on closing down the hospitals,” said Community Board 10 member Allen Bortnick, a Korean War veteran who has been going to the hospital for 23 years. “We [veterans] are the Rodney Dangerfields of the current world — we don’t get no respect.”

The threatened unit is scheduled to stop taking new patients on July 1 and will cease operations by July 21.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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