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Veteran’s advocacy group to share concerns with MMH administration

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MASSENA - Members of a veteran’s advocacy group will be meeting on Tuesday with Massena Memorial Hospital administrators to share some concerns, including staffing levels at the North Country Veterans’ Clinic.

They’re also inviting other veterans to take part in the discussions, which will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the hospital, and share their concerns.

John B. Lambert, a member of the North Country Veterans’ Clinic Advisory Committee, said their group meets regularly, including Tuesday’s session with MMH administrators. Other members of the group include Ronald Faucher, Mark Phillips and Tom Robinson.

“We meet occasionally, probably about every 60 days. It’s a regular meeting. There are some concerns. There are always concerns,” Mr. Lambert said.

One of those concerns these days, Mr. Lambert said, is the closure of the Veterans Affairs primary clinic in Malone. It serves 699 veterans, who will have to travel to Massena, Saranac Lake or Plattsburgh to receive treatment.

That closure was originally scheduled for Aug. 31. But MMH Senior Director for Ancillary Services Mark P. Brouillette said Tuesday that he and Senior Director of Practice Management Zachary K. Chapman met last week with Richard Kazel, Syracuse Veterans Medical Center manager of medical/surgical careline, and were told that the closing was delayed for six months.

“The Malone clinic was given a six-month extension until 2014, which is kind of a good thing for us,” Mr. Brouillette said.

The influx of new veterans would have come at a time when the North Country Veterans’ Clinic, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, is facing staff shortages that already limit their ability to handle the current number of veterans who use the clinic, according to Mr. Lambert.

The clinic sees more than 1,000 veterans each month, and more than 2,100 veterans are registered to receive their care at the North Country Veterans’ Clinic. More than 13,000 veterans live within a 60-mile radius of the clinic in St. Lawrence and Franklin counties.

“It’s going to provide a challenge. The veterans’ clinic is going to be challenged to meet the needs of the area veterans and the influx of those veterans coming from the Malone clinic,” he said.

He said they may be looking at as many as 200 new veterans needing medical care at the Massena facility.

“We have had concerns. We knew it was coming. Now, with the closing of the Malone clinic, the challenges are right on our doorstep,” Mr. Lambert said.

But, with the delay, Mr. Brouillette said that will give the hospital additional time to recruit and credential staff for the North Country Veteran’s Clinic.

“It’s good news for all veterans,” he said.

Mr. Lambert said veterans are also concerned about claims processing at the VA headquarters level, something that is beyond the hospital’s control but still a concern.

“The Veteran’s Administration is extremely weak in their ability to process claims and meet the needs of veterans. They’re showing that they’re getting farther and farther behind the eight ball every day. We like to keep the hospital administration up to date on what our veterans’ needs are and to keep an open line of communication of ‘this is what we’ve done,’” Mr. Lambert said.

Mr. Brouillette said meetings like the one scheduled for Tuesday allow them to interact and hear those kinds of concerns from the veteran’s representatives.

“We hold a VA advisory meeting every three months. Sometimes it’s very positive and we hear a lot of good things, and sometimes it’s tougher issues,” he said.

Senior Director of Planning and Public Relations Tina R. Corcoran said the local veterans were instrumental in helping plan the recent 20th anniversary celebration for the clinic.

“They helped us plan the big event we did for the 20th anniversary. They were very instrumental in helping plan that,” she said.

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