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If you really want to support the troops you have to do more than just put a magnetic sticker on your vehicle.  Among other things, it means that you stand up for both our troops in the field and for ongoing care for our Veterans at home.  And at a time when we have tens of thousands of new disabled veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, that latter part is especially important.

This weekend has brought some disturbing news for veterans in the 29th District that directly relates to this issue. It appears that the Acute Psychiatric treatment ward at the Canandaigua VA Hospital, just down the road from Rochester, is slated for closure just after the election. (What interesting timing!) This hospital is already the only center of its kind in the area and, in recent years, has faced dramatic cuts in its other medical services. Now, with the impending loss of in-patient psychiatric treatment services, disabled veterans and their families will be forced to travel to as far away as Buffalo.

Public Promises, Secret Backroom Deals

To add insult to this injury, this has all taken place in secret, behind the backs of veterans and the public--and with the knowledge and consent of my opponent. We had all been promised, at least as far back as April of this year (link) that not only would the entire facility remain open, but it would become one of only a handful of Centers of Excellence dedicated to PTSD research and recovery. We were all cautiously optimistic about the future of the facility.  

As recently as just a few weeks ago, my opponent took part in a press conference at the Canandaigua VA Hospital to announce that, sometime next spring, there would be an announcement about the future of the facility. He took the opportunity to pay lip service to veteran's issues and express his support for plans to make the hospital a regional "center of excellence."  An article discussing the announcement is here.  Notice the title: "Plans keep services at current V.A. center."  That title is exactly the story that Republican members of Congress and VA officials were feeding to the press three weeks ago.

At the time, Kuhl's participation in the press conference appeared to be nothing more than an election cycle stunt akin to his Iraq junket--a cheap photo-op in the name of supporting our troops. Only later did I discover how cynical this event really was. It turns out that, on the same day that my opponent was standing up at the podium, hospital administrators took the staff into a conference room and quietly told the employees of ward 3B - the acute psych ward - that their jobs would be gone by the end of November. The hospital spokesman continues to insist that no date has been set for the ward's closing, but an internal VA memo confirms that November 30th is the deadline for all patients to be discharged or moved to other facilities.

A local news station broke the story recently and the next day Senator Clinton, who was also shocked by the revelation, called for the acute psychiatric unit to remain open until plans for the future of the Canandaigua facility are more firm. (link)  A piece in the Messenger Post (link) captures the mood of the local Veterans community and the inconsistencies of the stories told by Republican politicians and VA officials. Keeping the psychiatric beds has been a central issue for our Veterans in the area and they are understandably upset that, despite the happy talk from VA representatives, the acute psychiatric treatment unit is obviously being closed as of November 30 with no definite plans for the future.

From what we have been able to gather, there is a promise of a new 22 bed facility that will be an out-patient treatment center.  This really sounds suspicious since out-patient treatment centers aren't staffed the same as in-patient treatment centers and certainly don't use beds in the same way an in-patient treatment center does.

How much did he know? When did he know it?

If my opponent wants us to believe that he is actually an advocate for veteran's issues, then he will need to provide answers to two questions about this ward closing: How much did he know? And When did he know it?

There seem to only be two options. Either he took part in the press conference knowing that the acute psych wing was scheduled to be closed--in which case he was deliberately misleading the voters and veterans of this district with his empty support for expanding the facilities. The alternative is that he had no idea about what was going on in the hospital, or with the Veterans Administration, and was simply taking advantage of a press event to get his name in the paper.

I'm honestly not sure which of these would be more disturbing. On the one hand, our Congressman might have been lying to veterans for political gain, but on the other hand he might have been so out of touch with his district that he was ignoring the real needs of veterans in NY-29. In either case, this event underscores the need for new leadership in Washington.

Representative Jim Walsh in NY-25, who is on the subcommittee that has oversight over the VA (and thus has some political weight in this issue), definitely indicated after the last press conference that Kuhl was in the knowledge loop with him (link):

Through Randy's determination and my role as Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee with oversight over the VA, we've been fortunate to be able to press our case before the highest VA decision makers.

And given that Amo Houghton, who chairs the committee studying the potential futures of the facility, is an honorary campaign chairman for Randy Kuhl (link), it seems even less likely that he was ignorant of what was about to happen to the acute psychiatric treatment unit.

Conclusion: New Leadership Needed in Washington.

Randy Kuhl does not represent the interests of Veterans, whether in the New York 29th District or elsewhere.  And that message is getting out.  An article that appeared in today's Olean Times Herald (link) mentioned Randy Kuhl's record of 9 years of deferrals during Vietnam.  As the Representative of the 29th District, I will fight every day to end the talk about closing VA hospitals and instead make this a discussion about doubling their funding. The men and women who have worn our country's uniform, and who have sacrificed for our country deserve the best medical care available--not more empty talk from career politicians who only bring up veterans when they're trolling for votes.

Supporting the troops means you stand up for them and protect them instead of just using them for props in political campaigns. All the issues in this election boil down to two things: we need to change direction and we need new leadership.

Originally posted to Eric Massa on Sun Oct 22, 2006 at 11:59 AM PDT.

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