Clinic facilities

Paterson NJ Veterans Health Clinic may be closed

PATERSON — The federal government is considering closing an outpatient veterans’ health clinic in Paterson that served 1,385 former members of the armed forces in 2019.

Veterans using the Paterson Clinic would be referred to a larger facility in Hackensack, according to preliminary recommendations for a nationwide restructuring of veterans health services.

The changes are designed to accommodate projected changes in the size and location of the country’s veteran population, officials said.

The Paterson Outpatient Clinic is one of 11 clinics operated in New Jersey by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, in addition to two larger veterans medical facilities in East Orange and Lyon. According to the VA’s preliminary recommendations, the federal agency would open a new outpatient clinic in Toms River, an area where officials say the veteran population is growing.

But the plan is already facing opposition from Passaic County elected officials, including Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., who sent a letter Thursday to Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough. Pascrell said in the letter that he successfully fought for the opening of the Paterson Clinic in 2004 because the veterans outpatient programs in Hackensack and East Orange were severely overcrowded.

“I ask you to reverse this ill-advised and reckless decision that will hurt our veterans,” the congressman told the secretary.

Pascrell also said the research on which the VA based its recommendations has been criticized by the federal Office of Government Accountability for discrepancies and incomplete data.

“This decision which directly harms veterans in our district and North Jersey is based on a flawed basis,” the congressman wrote. “The VA cannot rely on flawed data to make momentous facility closure decisions that will impact thousands of Americans who depend on VA resources for their entire lives.”

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The Passaic County Board of Commissioners and Paterson City Council also plan to pass resolutions opposing the closure.

Final decisions on restructuring veterans’ health care facilities won’t be made until 2023 by President Joe Biden, said VA communications manager Christine Betros Farrell. Until then, an independent panel called the Assets and Infrastructure Review Board will assess the VA’s recommendations from a March report and decide which should be forwarded to the president for approval, Betros Farrell said.

“Veterans will always be at the center of what we do,” the spokesperson said. “The AIR Commission is an opportunity to redesign VA health care to maximize access and outcomes for current and future generations of veterans.

“It is important to note that all recommendations to the next AIR Commission are just that – recommendations,” Betros Farrell added. “Nothing changes now for veterans’ access to care or VA employees.”

The VA’s March announcement of the restructuring report did not say whether the proposed changes would reduce or increase veterans’ healthcare costs. The VA report says the Paterson Clinic served 1,385 “unique” patients in 2019, a 17.4% reduction in its workload from 2015. Charts included in the report showed that six of the outpatient clinics VA had heavier workloads than Paterson’s on Getty. Street. This group included the Hackensack facility as well as others located in Brick, Hamilton, Piscataway, Morristown and Tinton Falls.

Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press. E-mail: editor@patersonpress.com