Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand pushed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to finalize and swiftly approve a contract that would allow the Canandaigua VA Medical Center and a local health provider to make acute psychiatric inpatient care services available to veterans in the Finger Lakes area. The Senators explained that, as revealed in information provided by the VA to the Finger Lakes Veterans Advisory Council, many veterans have been transferred to health care facilities outside the Rochester-Finger Lakes area to receive inpatient psychiatric care, since the Canandaigua VA does not provide the service.
Many of these veterans are transferred to inpatient locations in Syracuse, Buffalo, and even as far as Albany. Schumer and Gillibrand said this places a significant strain on veterans, some of whom are disabled or in need of constant care, because they are forced to travel hours to a distant location. The Senators noted it is also a burden on the family members who then must drive hours in order to visit the veteran receiving care. Schumer and Gillibrand said that there is an agreement in place that would allow the Canandaigua VA to contract with a local Finger Lakes area health care provider to provide inpatient acute psychiatric care instead of transferring veterans out of the region. This contract, however, needs VA approval, and it could take up to 18 months. Schumer and Gillibrand wrote to VA Secretary Bob McDonald, urging him to finalize this contract as soon as possible so that veterans in the Finger Lakes can receive the care they need.
“Our veterans have protected and defended us, and we must do our job to protect them when they come home. Making hundreds of veterans travel hours away to receive the psychiatric care they need, when it can be provided right here in the Finger Lakes, places an unfair burden on patients and their families,” said Senator Schumer. “We must remedy this situation, and the agreement the local VA has in place would do just that. That is why I am calling on the VA secretary to cut through the red tape and expedite this contract so Finger Lakes area veterans can finally have the inpatient facilities they need and deserve right near where they live.”
“New York is home to more than one million men and women who have answered our nation’s call and served with distinction in our Armed Forces,” said Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “When these brave men and women return home to the country they served, many of them need counseling and mental health services and we owe it to them to make sure these resources are easily accessible. This contract would help provide our veterans with the specialized care they need without the burden of traveling miles away. I urge the VA to expedite this process so that more of our veterans in the Finger Lakes area can get the care they deserve.”
Schumer and Gillibrand explained that there are an estimated 70,000 veterans in the Rochester-Finger Lakes region, some of whom require inpatient psychiatric services as opposed to outpatient services upon returning home. The Senators said that, while VA-run outpatient psychiatric services are available in the Finger Lakes region, inpatient services are not. In fact, according to information obtained by the Finger Lakes Veteran Advisory Council, during an eleven month period from October 2012 to August 2013, over 170 veterans were transferred for acute psychiatric care from Canandaigua and Rochester Veterans Affairs mental health clinics to Buffalo, Syracuse, and Albany psychiatry inpatient units due to psychiatric inpatient beds not being available in the Finger Lakes region. Schumer and Gillibrand said that this transfer places an unfair burden on the veterans and their families wishing to visit because these locations can be hours away.
Schumer and Gillibrand said that there is currently an agreement in place that would allow a health facility in the Finger Lakes region to make available new acute psychiatric inpatient beds close to the Canandaigua VA. The Senators said that the contract would make available six beds for acute psychiatric inpatient care and is with a provider located within a 30 minute drive of the Canandaigua and Rochester areas. The contract has already been submitted to the federal VA, however it could take up to 18 months for this contract to be finalized and for beds to be made available. Schumer and Gillibrand are pushing the VA to expedite this contract. The Senators said that eliminating the burden of traveling hours to receive the necessary care will better enable our veterans to receive support from family and friends living locally. Representatives Louise Slaughter and Chris Collins have also submitted letters to the VA urging the agency to quickly finalize this contract.
A copy of Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand’s letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs appears below:
Dear Secretary McDonald,
We write to request the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) move expeditiously to finalize a contract to establish dedicated acute psychiatric beds to serve veterans in the Rochester-Finger Lakes, New York region. According to information provided by the VA in response to a FOIA request from the Finger Lakes Veteran Advisory Council in an eleven month period from October 2012 to August 2013, over 170 veterans were transferred for acute psychiatric care from Canandaigua and Rochester Veterans Affairs mental health clinics to Buffalo, Syracuse, and Albany psychiatry inpatient units since psychiatric inpatient beds are not available in the Finger Lakes region. This has put a significant burden on our disabled veterans and their families who travel multiple hours to receive the appropriate care.
The Finger Lakes Veterans Advocacy Council is a local organization that fights for the rights of veterans in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Through their unwavering commitment and tireless advocacy to our region’s veterans, they have given a voice to thousands of veterans throughout the Finger Lakes. While it has come to our attention that the Department of Veterans Affairs is working on a contract with a Finger Lakes health facility located within a thirty minute drive of Canandaigua and/or Rochester to create six new acute psychiatric inpatient beds close to the Canandaigua VA, we are concerned by estimates that it will take approximately 18 months for this contract to be finalized and for beds to made available. According to the FOIA request by the Finger Lakes Veterans Advocacy Council, the average length of stay in the Albany, Buffalo, and Syracuse acute psychiatric units is 10.45 days. It is unacceptable that our country’s servicemen and women are being separated from their loved ones for such lengths of time to receive the necessary care.
Therefore, we request that the VA expedite and prioritize the execution of this contract in the near term. Eliminating the burden of traveling hours to receive the necessary care will better enable our veterans to receive support from family and friends living in the area. Our veterans have sacrificed for our nation and deserve care that is second to none. We must stand with our nation’s veterans and ensure they receive the acute psychiatric care they require.
We ask that you give this request your full consideration.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator
United States Senator