MALONE Many veterans who depend on the Veterans Affairs primary care clinic in Malone are outraged that it will close Aug. 31.
The clinic serves 699 veterans, according to Bonnie Stewart, deputy director of the Franklin County Veterans Services Agency.
We are heartsick, she said. We know these vets and their stories.
Veterans will have to travel to Massena, Saranac Lake or Plattsburgh to receive treatment, and Ms. Stewart said it will be hard for some vets to get transportation.
Linda Weiss, director of the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center, made the decision and informed the veterans by mail May 7. Employees of the clinic didnt know it was going to close until they received an email.
This is just awful, said Michael Rousseau, a Navy veteran of Vietnam who is disabled. He has a coagulated blood disease and must have his blood drawn as often as three times a month.
Id be responsible to pay 20 percent if I went to local doctors, he said, adding that he did not want to have to drive out of his way just to have blood drawn. Im on a fixed income.
Mr. Rousseaus father, also a war veteran, cannot walk. His brother, Armond Rousseau, suffers from Parkinsons disease because of Agent Orange. They and other family members all use the Malone clinic.
Its difficult for veterans, like my brother, to travel, Michael Rousseau said.
He said he plans to start a petition to save the clinic.
Dave Mahoney, the area coordinator for the Veteran Coalition for Franklin and Clinton Counties, is frustrated by the decision.
I just got my letter in the mail, he said. I knew they were having issues ... but I didnt think they were going to close the clinic.
Mr. Mahoney said one of the biggest complaints about the clinic was mismanagement.
In one month 300 veterans left because they were doing such a poor job, he said. They were treating the guys like they were an imposition on them.
Mr. Mahoney wants the facility improved, not closed.
One problem is the Malone clinic is the third most expensive in the country, according to Ms. Stewart. The average cost for care per veteran is $4,000 per year, but at Malone it is $11,000, she said.
These vets are more than numbers and figures, she said.
The letter stated that one of the reasons the clinic will close is lack of space.
Which is wrong because they just leased the other side of the wall, Michael Rousseau said.
There is a decrease in the number of veterans attending the clinic, according to Peter Potter, public affairs and congressional liaison at the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center.
He said closing the clinic would save about $700,000 a year, money that could be used to improve services like telemedicine and home-based care.
The VA contracts with a provider to operate the clinic, which opened in 1999.