PRESS RELEASE – Rockland County Executive Ed Day will attend a meeting Thursday with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in an effort to save a shuttle bus that takes veterans to medical appointments at health centers in Montrose, the Bronx and other locations.
Day will speak at a Town Hall meeting with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at 11 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 12 at the Castle Point campus of the Hudson Valley Health Care System.
He will join a group that will leave Rockland at 9:30 a.m. from the parking lot of the Pomona American Legion Hall, 20 Station Road. Anyone who needs a ride is asked to contact Jerry Donnellan, director of the Rockland County Veterans Service Agency at 845-638-5244.
“We want the VA to know that our heroes here in Rockland County depend on that bus to get the care they need,” Day said. “There are better ways to save money than to leave elderly veterans who fought for our country without a way to get to the doctor.”
The VA wants to eliminate the shuttle bus that runs between the VA satellite office in New City and other VA health centers.
The New City VA clinic offers numerous outpatient services including primary care, mental health, and pharmacy services. But the Castle Point, Montrose and Bronx health care facilities provide more extensive services.
The bus has been in operation for more than 16 years. It provides veterans with a roundtrip ride from the New City office to larger VA health facilities in Montrose, the Bronx and Castle Point.
At least 100 veterans use the service every month. The service costs the VA about $100,000 annually. The national budget for the Veterans Administration is nearly $183 billion for this year.
Day pointed out that according to a new report by the Veterans Inspector General shows that the agency gave out more than $30 million in employee incentives in one year without justification.
The report details a case in which the Montrose VA medical center improperly paid a $51,316 incentive and relocation fee for a medical director.
“In addition to the improper authorization of this incentive, we also found this relocation incentive was based on inaccurate information and was not justified,” according to the report.
“That $51,316 that they didn’t need to pay could have funded the shuttle bus for half a year,” Day said. “They pay an improper fee but they can’t take elderly veterans to the doctor?”
Many of the riders are in their 80s or older and can no longer safely drive such a long distance, Donnellan said.
Donnellan said he would be willing to work with the VA to see about reducing some of the trips without cancelling the service entirely.
He said that another option proposed by the VA that calls for reimbursing veterans up to $20 for travel expenses will not come close to covering the full cost.
“They have no other way to get there,” he said. “They rely on the shuttle bus.”