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Higgins stands with veterans in opposition to VA's decision to close adult day health care program

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Thu, Aug 23rd 2018 07:25 pm
Congressman Brian Higgins listens as veterans make their case.
Congressman Brian Higgins listens as veterans make their case.
Congressman says shutdown is unwarranted & unfair; calls on VA to reverse decision
Congressman Brian Higgins, D-NY-26, stood Thursday with veterans, their families and local residents in opposition to the Veteran Administration Western New York Healthcare System's plan to close the adult day health care program.
"We have spent the last several weeks trying to understand the VA's decision to hastily close the doors on a program that has worked effectively, and there is no clear or logical explanation," Higgins said.
He issued a letter urging the VA regional director to reverse this decision, noting the VA decision doesn't add up. Higgins wrote: "One of the reasons cited for this shift are financial considerations. According to a report from the Congressional Research Service, in FY 2015, VA-operated ADHC programs cost an average of $120.53 per visit, while VA-contracted ADHC programs cost an average of $132.40 per day."
The congressman's office has been in frequent contact with the Buffalo VA and WS Development Associates. Brian Sciera, WS Development Associates Senior vice president for leasing, confirmed, "We have no plans to demolish this building in the near term, and there is no need or want on our part to see the veterans leave. We are more than willing to work with the VA in the interim. In fact, we would offer the existing space, rent free, for the next six months while the VA figures out their plans."
Higgins, in the letter, also cited the chaotic transition: "Numerous families of veteran clients of this program who have contacted my office have indicated that they have received contradictory information from the VA regarding why this program is closing, when it is closing, and what alternate programs will be available to them."
The VA Western New York Healthcare System has operated the adult day health care center at Northtown Plaza in the Town of Amherst for the past seven years and previously provided the program at the VA Hospital on Bailey Avenue in Buffalo. Through the program, the VA serves the medical and social needs of patients with services, including physical therapy, health education, dementia care and family support. The facility served 250 veterans last year.
Decorated Vietnam veteran Steve Banko said, "One of the most effective methods of allaying the effects of post-traumatic stress is peer interaction. My brief experience in touring the VA day care center showed me dedicated staff, committed vets working on physical therapy, and some great World War II vets enjoying themselves. Relocate the center if you must, but don't eliminate something that's working for veterans."
In a letter to Higgins dated July 11, the VA Western New York Heath Care interim director announced plans to end the VA-run program by Oct. 1, and transition veterans to private agencies. Veterans and their families have publicly opposed this move.
Jeannie Suppa, daughter of a veteran who attends the VA adult day health center, said, "This program, which my 91-year-old father has been attending for the last three-plus years, has been an inspiration not only for my dad, but for my whole family, including my 88-year-old mom who is his primary caretaker. It has aided with my father's dementia keeping his mind alive, along with keeping all our vets active both physically and mentally. The VA program has been exceptional in providing activities throughout the day, including birthday and holiday celebrations. It would be a huge shame to take this away from our veterans. They fought for us and it is time we fight for them!"
Christine Ambrosone, Ph.D., a family member whose brother has attended both VA and private care sites, wrote, "The VA day program has been a beacon of light for us every Tuesday and Thursday when he attends. Here, the veteran men and women are treated with respect, and provided with some dignity, unlike facilities in the community we have experience with. The staff and volunteers provide an atmosphere of camaraderie and respect, and the activities are engaging and enjoyable. At one point, we took my brother, Peter, to a facility in the community on the alternate days to the VA day program while we were at work. It broke my heat leaving him there because of the environment."
VA Adult Day Health Center volunteer Judi Czora wrote, "In the years I have volunteered, I have witnessed (what would be thought) impossible. A veteran who suffered a brain aneurism and survived (was) told he would never walk again. Through his own strength, determination and the help of everyone, especially the therapist at the center, that man not only walks, but is now a volunteer himself. You cannot duplicate what the adult day health center provides. There is no monetary amount you can put on the sacrifice or commitment that these man/women made to put their lives on the line for their country."
Higgins said, "There is no justification for ending this program, no immediate plans to demolish this building, and no evidence that the VA earnestly attempted to maintain the program at the existing site or an alternate location nearby. This program is not 'broken' and does not need to be 'fixed.' I urge the VA reverse this unfortunate and ill-advised decision."

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