By DENISE A. RAYMO
---- — MALONE — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Malone is closing Aug. 31, forcing the nearly 700 veterans who use it to seek care somewhere else.
“It’s a tough one. It’s heartbreaking for us,” said Bonnie Stewart, deputy director of the Franklin County Veterans Services Agency.
“It’s coming down to numbers, but the vets are not numbers to us. We know the stories of these vets.”
Stewart will meet with the Franklin County Legislature Thursday to gain its support to try to retain the local site.
During a meeting of the Essex County Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee this week, Essex County Veterans Office Coordinator William Ferebee said, the enrollment in Malone “dropped below 700 (to 699).
“We expect to pick up some of those at the Saranac Lake office,” he said, adding that 1,400 veterans are enrolled at that clinic.
In a form letter sent to those using the clinic services, Linda Weiss, director of the Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany, said the veteran population has declined 18 percent statewide and that “significant privacy and space limitations as well as a lack of infrastructure for enhanced services” in Malone led to the decision to close the Community Based Outpatient Clinic there.
WITHIN 30 MILES
Veterans will have to obtain services at one of the other three VA clinics in the region, which are in Saranac Lake, Plattsburgh and Massena.
Stewart said the VA determined that 88 percent of the vets using the Malone site are within 30 minutes of one of the other sites.
“I’m trying very hard to reconcile myself to those numbers, but they assured me they’ve measured it,” she said. “But they don’t know what 30 minutes is like in winter on Route 30 or Route 37.”
She said her office, as well as the clinic — which is operated under contract with the VA by CRAssociates Inc. — will provide veterans, their families and supporters with contact information for their federal representatives.
The Malone office opened under a two-year contract with the VA in 1999 at Alice Hyde Medical Center and continued there until CRAssociates Inc. won the contract six years ago, Stewart said.
The office provides primary health-care services, behavioral-health care, a smoking-cessation program and blood-drawing services.
A clinic had been housed at Elizabethtown Community Hospital, but that was moved to the former State Police barracks at the Westport exit off the Adirondack Northway.
The VA said Malone’s closure means more can be spent to expand tele-medicine, tele-nutrition and tele-pharmacy services and home-based primary care.
And it will allow for community partnerships for other related services.
“I’m hoping they will change their minds,” Stewart said of the VA’s decision.
“We know their (veterans’) stories. You don’t leave your job here. You take it with you.
“We do our best, but it’s hard,” she said.
“We have to look into their faces.”
Email Denise A. Raymo:firstname.lastname@example.org