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Vets continue fight to keep VA clinic open in Malone

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MALONE - The Malone Veterans Affairs Community Based Outpatient Clinic is still set to close at the end of February, but the hope of having the state’s decision overturned is still alive.

Bonnie Stewart, deputy director of the Franklin County Veterans Service Agency, recently updated county legislators on what’s being done to try to save the clinic.

“It’s open until then,” Ms. Stewart said regarding the clinic’s Feb. 28 closure date.

She told legislators that she met with Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, when he visited the Malone-Dufort Airport on Sept. 6.

“Sen. Schumer did say he would try to push for one year with this clinic,”Ms. Stewart said, adding that Sena. Schumer said the extra time would give the clinic a chance to try to increase the number of veterans it services.

Sen. Schumer said he would also speak with Linda Weiss, director of the Stratton VA Medical Center, who made the decision to close the clinic, according to Ms. Stewart. However, she said she met with Ms. Weiss last week and Ms. Weiss said she had not heard from the senator.

“I’m still hopeful he will be contacting her,” Ms. Stewart said. “I’m grabbing every opportunity I can to try to save the clinic.”

She added that she urges veterans to write letters to Sen. Schumer about how the clinic’s closing would affect them.

Around the time the closure was announced in May, Ms. Stewart said the clinic was serving 699 veterans; Ms. Stewart said Ms. Weiss told her that at its peak, 820 veterans were using the clinic.

Ms. Stewart said Thursday that there are 4,079 veterans in the county.

“Is there a safe number that you’re shooting for?” asked Legislator Gordon Crossman, D-Malone.

Ms. Stewart replied that there isn’t an exact number that will change the state’s decision.

“I don’t know what they consider safe,” she said. “I know 800 is safe. ... I think 699 is a good number and they shouldn’t be closing it.”

When Ms. Stewart met with Ms. Weiss, she proposed the clinic’s staffing be brought to what she feels is a comfortable level. This means, in addition to the doctor, nurses and support staff currently on hand, replacing the post-traumatic stress disorder counselor, a position that was terminated from the clinic this past January.

Ms. Stewart said many veterans are referred through the VA to a PTSD counselor, though she did not have exact numbers. She noted that since Malone no longer has one veterans have to travel to another clinic, such as Plattsburgh or Massena, to receive this care. Because of this, Ms. Stewart said some veterans are changing their primary care clinic from Malone to one of the other facilities

Ms. Stewart noted that two to three veterans per week have been enrolling in the clinic recently.

“We tell them it’s closing but they still want to go here,” she said.

“So hopefully the numbers will go up,” said Legislator Sue Robideau, R-Brushton.

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