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The Edward P. Boland VA Medical Center of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Leeds, Mass.

The Edward P. Boland VA Medical Center of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Leeds, Mass. (Leon Nguyen, The Republican/TNS)

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — Ever since Dave Keller returned from Vietnam, he said he’s struggled with PTSD and anxiety, like many veterans. But the medication he was prescribed wasn’t helping, he said. He felt lost and hopeless.

“Instead of committing suicide I went to Leeds,” said the veteran.

Northampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center helped Keller cope with his PTSD and anxiety. The VA hospital staff assessed issues with the medication Keller was originally prescribed and provided him with a caretaker, housing and counseling to assist with his trauma.

Keller said he was even able to befriend other Vietnam veterans and form meaningful connections during his stay at the VA’s lodging.

”Without the Leeds hospital, I probably wouldn’t be here,” said Keller.

In March, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recommended the closing of its nearly century-old medical center in Northampton, following a nationwide assessment that plans to “modernize or realign facilities” over the next several years to meet future demand for veterans.

The move could relocate nursing home care and rehabilitation programs to a VA facility in Newington, Connecticut, while transferring outpatient and mental health services to a VA clinic in Springfield and community providers.

Roughly 21,000 veterans who rely on the Northampton hospital for medical care would have to travel to far-off facilities to access care.

With tearful eyes and solemn voices, veterans rallied in solidarity during a town hall on Wednesday to painstakingly reflect on the physical and emotional trauma they endured fighting for their country. They spoke about the PTSD disrupting their lives, crippling health complications that they’ve had to grow to live with and the struggles they have with simply waking up in the morning.

The majority of the veterans came to one solidary conclusion: They wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for the services provided at Northampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Rep. Jim McGovern hosted the town hall in Northampton on Wednesday night in an effort to persuade the secretary of Veterans Affairs to reconsider recommending the closure of the Northampton VA hospital.

“I am fed up to the ears with bureaucrats in Washington making decisions that are bad for veterans, bad for their families and bad for our community,” McGovern said during the town hall. “And we’re not going to let this medical center close.”

McGovern said he’ll be sending a recording of all the testimonies heard during the town hall to the secretary of Veterans Affairs office.

Along with the recording, nearly every member of Massachusetts’ federal delegation signed a letter on April 14, asking the secretary of Veterans Affairs to reconsider his stance.

Co-signed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Ed Markey and Massachusetts representatives, the unified delegation is prepared to bring their concerns to President Biden “if necessary.”

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough is expected to visit the veterans at the Northampton VA hospital in Leeds and hear their testimonies in person at a later point.

The Department of Veterans Affairs said the Northampton VA hospital would need $121 million in renovations to get the facility up to federal VA standards.

Data from the VA Hospital’s fiscal years from 2015 through 2018 were used in the Veteran Affairs department’s evaluation of the hospital.

McGovern said these claims are simply inaccurate and outdated. Since 2018, The federal government spent $108.4 million to renovate and modernize the medical facility, and another $93 million in future upgrades are planned to be invested into the facility.

“It makes no sense, I want them to do their homework here,” McGovern said.

Thoma Dugan, a Navy veteran and Northampton VA chief engineer, said he knows the hospital’s infrastructure better than anyone. He said many items in the Veterans Affairs report are inaccurate.

“I personally replaced the switchgear there, we put in miles of steam piping.,” Dugan said. “That facility on the outside was built a long time ago, but on the inside, it’s all new.”

The Navy veteran believes investment should go into the VA hospital in Springfield, so additional care can be provided.

McGovern invited everyone present during Wednesday’s town hall to come up and speak when the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department visits Northampton in the future. The senator encouraged other veterans and supporters to also come out to speak at the forthcoming event.

“Our veterans pledge to leave no soldier, sailor, Marine or airman behind,” McGovern said. “Well, today I’m telling you when they return home, America’s pledge ought to be that we leave no veteran behind.”

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC.

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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