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VA plan calls for eventual closure and replacement of Albany Stratton hospital

Stratton VA in Albany
Dave Lucas
Albany Stratton VA

Albany's Stratton VA hospital could eventually be closed and replaced under a federal plan.

A new $1.5 billion dollar "Albany VA Medical Center" is envisioned in the federal Asset and Infrastructure Review reportissued this week by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. The new entity would offer a multitude of physical and mental health care services for vets. VA sites and offices in Troy, Schenectady and Clifton Park would be permanently shuttered. An outpatient clinic providing primary and specialty care along with mental health services would be opened in Saratoga Springs. Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan says it's time for an upgrade.

"Well, I certainly think that we need to learn more about what exactly is planned," said Sheehan. "I think it is critically important that we have services available to our veterans that meet our veterans’ needs. And those needs have evolved."

According to the VA, Albany Stratton no longer meets modern health care standards and an upgrade would cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Albany Stratton VA Public Affairs Director Peter Potter says there is money appropriated for construction, maintenance and upkeep of VA structures.

"But when you look at the overall cost of the upkeep, in comparison with what the upkeep of a new building would be, you start seeing there's a huge portion of savings that can be realized, in addition to being able to provide better care offers, there are some buildings that can't provide the access to certain technology just because maybe the wiring is too old," Potter said. "And so the added expense of trying to update things that are literally from the World War II era creates the issue of just spending a whole lot of extra money where it could be reassessed and, and spent more wisely."

Albany County Legislature Chair Andrew Joyce would like to see the new hospital built in the same area as the existing facility on Holland Avenue.

"That section of the city of Albany is a good spot to build a new hospital, in the vicinity of the existing hospital," said Joyce. "A lot of sprawl in that area. And there's opportunity there for housing as well. So there's a number of different things at play, that makes this a good story and makes it a good thing for the city of Albany, and the region and our veterans."

Potter says it's a long road from issuing a report to actually building and opening a new facility.

"Now that it's been released by the secretary, they'll form the AIR commission," Potter said. "And that AIR Commission review may take a good one to two years. And of course, this is based on what they see, you know, what they would like to see, as far as changes go. From there, it's going to go to Congress. And you know, that's going to be a whole other review process, that's probably going to take some time, because it's not just the Capital Region that we're talking about. The AIR commission did a market assessment on all VAs across the entire country. So this will be involving the full cadre of Congress. So this review is going to have a lot of input, not only from the congressional offices, but there's going to be input that we're going to be asking from the communities and from the veterans at large."

When pressed, Potter said the process could play out over two decades.

Reaction was also swift in the Hudson Valley where Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney is calling on the VA to protect local veterans’ access to health care. The VA realignment report includes a recommendation to close the Castle Point VA Medical Center (VAMC) after moving its services to new locations. Maloney, a Democrat from the 18th District, wants clarification on the impact such a move would have on local veterans. In western Massachusetts, the VA is recommending closing a medical center in Northampton, an idea criticized by Democratic Congressmen Richard Neal and Jim McGovern.

National VA headquarters shared this statement via email. "Any potential changes to VA's health care infrastructure may be several years away and are dependent on Commission, Presidential, and Congressional decisions, as well as robust stakeholder engagement and planning. In the long run, AIR recommendations could impact VHA facilities and staff, but it's too early to know exactly what or where those impacts might be."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.