A group of north country veterans and their supporters will meet next week with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to discuss the possibility of establishing a veterans hospital in Ogdensburg.
Building such a hospital closer to home has been the chief objective of Operation Veterans since the group first formed in 2011 to address issues facing north country veterans.
There are outpatient clinics for veterans in Watertown, Massena and Malone. But veterans say they offer limited services. Anything beyond basic primary care that calls for a specialist has to be done at Veterans Administration Medical Centers in Syracuse or Albany.
Veterans and their supporters say Syracuse and Albany are too far, especially for elderly and disabled veterans, to travel to receive medical services.
The distance between is about 135 miles one way and 270 miles round-trip, organization member Susan J. Rupert said. For veterans traveling from Malone or Franklin County to Albany, it is even farther than that.
Waiting times and appointment dates are also a hassle, she said.
The waiting period is outrageous, Ms. Rupert said. We had a veteran who recently went down and scheduled an appointment in Syracuse, and was told he wouldnt be seen until October for a test that he is supposed to have every three months. A lot of veterans cant make the trip. It is getting expensive. That combined with the age of some of the veterans, some of them are forgoing treatments because of it.
In addition to outlining the needs of veterans, Operation Veterans will also highlight the economic benefits of establishing a hospital.
You are talking about jobs for out-of-work nurses and internships of the college students, Ms. Rupert said. Instead of having to go out of the area, students and graduates can work right here. Its a great opportunity for a lot of the college students.
Mr. Cuomos office offered the hour-long, face-to-face meeting with Operation Veterans after seeing an informational packet sent by the members. Operation Veterans members will propose use of the Pritchard Building at the St. Lawrence County Psychiatric Center, 1 Chimney Point Drive, as a possible site.
The group has met and sent letters to U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
Everybody has expressed their support, Ms. Rupert said.
There are 152 Veterans Administration medical centers nationwide.
The VA supports any efforts to provide care and services to our nations veterans, VA spokeswoman Sue Hopkins said. However, it wouldnt be appropriate for the national VA to comment on a proposal for veterans health care facility on the state level.
The meeting will take place Tuesday. The group is currently looking for letters of support from community members, particularly veterans, to take with them to Albany.
We want to see some feedback on how veterans and the community feel about establishing the hospital, Ms. Rupert said. We want to hear about their problems or their economic reasons just overall how they feel about it so we can best address their needs when we go to Albany.
Id love for the mailman to drop off a whole bag, she said.
Letters may be sent to 925 Ford St., Ogdensburg, 13669.