ROCKLAND COUNTY, N.Y. -- Rockland officials are fighting back against a plan to put the brakes on a shuttle bus service that takes local veterans to medical appointments in Montrose and elsewhere.
County Executive Ed Day, who has already spoken out against the proposed cut, said this week that he plans continue his fight at a Town Hall-style meeting with the Department of Veterans Affairs on Thursday, Jan. 12.
The meet is set for 11 a.m. at the Castle Point campus of the Hudson Valley Health Care System.
A bus of similarly minded folks will be leaving for said meeting at 9:30 a.m. Thursday from the parking lot of the Pomona American Legion Hall, 20 Station Road.
“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 Tuesday. “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.”
Sen. David Carlucci, D-Rockland/Westchester, is planning to hold a rally at the Pomona site at 9:30 a.m.
Jerry Donnellan, director of the Rockland County Veterans Service Agency, said Tuesday that anyone needing a ride to the meeting, can call him at (845) 638-5244.
The service has been in operation for 16 years and is used by about 100 veterans, every month, Day said. It will be scrapped by Monday, Jan. 30.
The VA shuttle between Castle Point and Montrose and the Bronx will be retained.
Many of these men and women are elderly or otherwise unable to drive long distances, Donnellan added.
It costs the VA about $100,000 a year to run, said Day, pointing out that its national budget is approximately $183 billion.
According to Day, the VA wants to sideline the shuttle that runs between its New City satellite office and its health centers in Montrose, in Westchester; Castle Point in Dutchess County’s Wappingers Falls; and the James J. Peters Medical Center in the Bronx.
Day said that the VA clinic in New City fulfills numerous outpatient needs including: primary care, mental health and pharmacy services.
The facilities at Castle Point, Montrose and the Bronx have more extensive services, the county executive said.
Day also expressed dismay over a recent report by the Veterans Inspector General he said shows “that the agency gave out more than $30 million in employee incentives in one year without justification.”
In one particular case, Day said, the audit of workforce recruitment, relocation and retention “incentives” found that the Montrose VA medical center had “improperly paid a $51,316 incentive and relocation fee for a medical director.”
The incentive referred to was for a medical center director in 2013, according to the report issued auditors working under the auspices of Inspector General Michael J. Missal’s office.
“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 as cited by the county executive.
That money could have kept the shuttle bus service afloat for at least six months, Day said, adding: “They pay an improper fee but they can't take elderly veterans to the doctor?”
Donnellan, a disabled vet himself, having lost a leg in Vietnam, said that he's willing to work with the VA to see if some trips could be cut without cancelling the whole shuttle service.
The VA has proposed reimbursing veterans up to $20 in travel expenses, but it won't, Donnellan said, come close to covering the full cost.
Donnellan said that he priced out the cost of hiring a medical shuttle to take veterans back and forth, which, he allowed "is more expensive than taking a taxi."
It costs an average $275 per round-trip that way, he said. But for someone who might be using a wheelchair, or who is otherwise disabled, taxis aren't always an option, he added.
"They have no other way to get there," he added. "They rely on the shuttle bus."