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

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

(Tribune News Service) — The top official in the Department of Veterans Affairs said in a phone call with Massachusetts Rep. James McGovern that the recommendation to close a veterans hospital in Northampton was based on incomplete data, according to a readout of the call provided by the congressman’s office.

During the call, VA Secretary Denis McDonough told McGovern that he was aware that the recommended closure of the Edward P. Boland VA Medical Center in Northampton may have been based on faulty data and said his department would rectify any possible errors before making a final assessment on the facility’s future.

McGovern expressed serious concern at the hospital’s possible closure, recommended in March as part of a nationwide review of VA facilities, his office said. The hospital serves more than 24,000 Central and Western Massachusetts veterans.

In the March report, federal officials said that if the hospital closed, its services could be dispersed to a VA clinic in Springfield, a VA hospital in Connecticut, and to civilian care providers in the community.

But in the wake of a report detailing the possible closure, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that local providers may not be equipped to handle a sudden influx of patients from VA hospitals.

The congressional watchdog said it found gaps in the VA’s data collection during its review of facilities across the country. Federal officials used data that did not reflect the increased number of veterans eligible as of 2019 to access local care outside the VA system.

The result, according to the GAO’s assessment, was that the VA lacked “a full understanding” of community care providers’ ability to supplement VA care.

McDonough told McGovern that he recognized “the serious issues with the incomplete data used to make the recommendation,” according to the readout of the call provided by the congressman’s office. He assured McGovern that the Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission — the group tasked with making an assessment to President Joe Biden on the VA hospital’s fate — would have up-to-date information before making a final recommendation.

According to the call readout, McDonough also acknowledged significant upgrades made to the Northampton facility in recent years. Between completed, ongoing, and planned renovations, the hospital has invested more than $200 million in its facilities over the last several years.

McGovern’s office said the recommendation to close the hospital did not consider the recent upgrades.

Veterans across Western and Central Massachusetts have expressed grave concern in the past two months about the hospital’s future.

Some have said that they worry that civilian doctors do not have the training or experience working with service members to adequately treat them. Veterans fear the significant added drive time and transportation barriers they may face if forced to seek care at the next nearest hospital, which may be more than an hour from Northampton. Others have discussed the impact the hospital’s closure could have on formerly homeless veterans, who have found stability nearby the Northampton hospital after years of hardship.

Multiple elected officials, including McGovern, have said they fear veterans will stop getting treatment if the hospital’s services disappear from Northampton.

“This is fundamentally unfair,” state Sen. John Velis said at a rally at the hospital in March

“So many veterans use this place as a home. So many veterans get treatment at this facility,” the Westfield Democrat and chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs said. “This is absolutely wrong, and we can’t stand for it.”

The VA hospital’s closure remains far from certain.

The March report was mandated by the VA MISSION Act of 2018, which passed the House of Representatives and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan majorities before being signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Following the nationwide assessment of VA facilities, the Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission will now review the report and make its recommendations to the president early next year.

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC.


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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