By DENISE A. RAYMO
---- — MALONE — The Malone veterans clinic got a six-month reprieve and will not close as scheduled on Aug. 31.
The new target date is Feb. 28, 2014, giving officials at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs time to look at their reasons for deciding to shut down the Cedar Commons clinic, leaving 700 veterans to find care at another VA site.
The decision was announced in May by Linda Weiss, director of Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany, who stated the number of veterans has dropped by nearly 20 percent in New York and that the Community-Based Outpatient Clinic here wasn’t seeing enough people.
She said the Malone facility also has limited space, privacy and infrastructure to provide the services the VA wanted.
But Weiss announced late Thursday that the clinic would remain open until the end of February.
“It’s good, but it’s not what we ultimately want,” said Judy Shanty of Malone.
She and her husband, Don, are behind the petition campaign that has generated signatures from almost 1,000 people so far.
“I sent them to everyone,” she said of the petitions, including Franklin County legislators, Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru), Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury), State Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and State Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
“Who I didn’t send to was Linda Weiss at the VA, but we’ll get her her share, too,” said Shanty, who is a registered nurse and veteran of the Women’s Army Corps.
Her husband is a Vietnam veteran.
“We are both patients at the clinic and use the services provided there, so we, along with all the other veterans, are appalled that they are closing the clinic.
“This is an impoverished area, and people live sometimes week to week or month to month,” she said. “To have to drive to Plattsburgh for a medical appointment, people can’t afford that.”
And to add a couple of hours of travel time when a person isn’t well, she said, isn’t a pleasant thought.
The closest alternate VA facilities are in Saranac Lake, Plattsburgh, Westport and Massena, which are a minimum of 35 miles one way for most vets, their families and caregivers to travel.
Some say the added travel puts undue hardship on those needing services, especially during North Country winters.
That was the issue for Congressman Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh), who contacted Weiss to ask her to reconsider her decision.
“The primary concern has been the added travel burden that the closure would impose,” the congressman wrote.
“Many patients seeking routine medical care are elderly and on fixed income,” he said, adding that the additional travel “could compound the severity” of their medical conditions.
Petition signatures are still being collected, and blank forms are available at the American Legion in both Malone and Brushton, at Green’s Store in Bangor and at the Malone VA clinic.
“We have close to 1,000 signatures, and we’re not going down without a fight,” Shanty said. “The VA says the number of vets has decreased, yes, because World War II vets are dying. But what about the veterans of the Gulf War and the ones who are serving now? What are they going to do down the road?
“This is a bad decision to make,” she said. “Veterans did not shirk their duty when they were called.”
Email Denise A. Raymo:firstname.lastname@example.org