Lynn VA Clinic gets a reprieve
Lynn veterans, from left, Army combat engineer and Purple Heart recipient Dan Cote, Brigadier General Andrea Gayle-Bennett, a member of DAV Chapter 64, and Vietnam veteran Joe O’ Hagan opposed the possible closing of the VA clinic in Lynn. (Spenser Hasak)
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LYNN — After months of protests over threats of closure, the Lynn Veterans Affairs (VA) Clinic survives to see another day — or hopefully 1,825 of them.
A five-year lease is back on the table for the clinic, which was due to close at the end of a one-year lease.
The outpatient clinic, located at 225 Boston St., provides primary care and specialty health services, including mental health services, to more than 2,000 local veterans. It is part of the VA Bedford Healthcare System, which operates a hospital in Bedford and community health clinics in Lynn, Gloucester and Haverhill.
A recommendation issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs in March called for the Lynn and Gloucester clinics to be closed in order to consolidate services and open a new clinic in Salem. The VA’s recommendations to the Assets and Infrastructure Review Board (AIR) would have closed or reduced dozens of full-service VA medical centers across the country. At the same time, the Lynn Clinic’s lease was reduced from five to one year. Unsurprisingly, the two door-closing measures raised alarm among patients and local officials.
“Within 24 hours of the announcement of the clinic’s closure, the mayor, city council, and our state delegation sent a letter demanding answers from the VA,” said Mike Sweeney, director of alumni services. Lynn Veterans, who praised the Lynn Veterans Council and other groups, including Mass Senior Action, for their involvement. “Mass Senior Action has started holding weekly protests at the clinic. I don’t think the VA expected such a setback.
Sweeney and these groups hold ongoing meetings to keep the pressure on the VA. “They want us to stop talking about it. But the question is just too big,” he said.
Mayor Jared C. Nicholson said there was a coordinated effort between local veterans, Sweeney’s office and elected officials to send a message to the VA that the city was united in its desire to keep the clinic open.
“We have so many veterans from Lynn and beyond who rely on this clinic for essential medical services,” Nicholson said. “I appreciate everyone stepping up to let the AV know how important it is for them to be able to access these services here in Lynn. We look forward to continuing to work with Congressman Moulton, our state delegation and the city council on behalf of our veterans. »
“There is no doubt in my mind that the VA clinic would close if it weren’t for effective and concerted community advocacy,” said state Rep. Peter Capano (D-Lynn). “I will be happy when the lease is officially signed, and we can put our efforts into expanding services and accessibility rather than constantly fighting to keep the clinic open.”
“I am very proud of the concerted community effort to ensure that our veteran community here in Lynn continues to receive the care it deserves,” City Council Speaker Jay Walsh said. “This is about caring for those who fought for us and we will continue to support those efforts.”
On June 2, in a meeting with Sweeney, Congressman Seth Moulton and other local officials, the VA promised a lease extension, with a five-year lease on the table. Sweeney said until the extended lease is signed, the clinic could still close.
“They’ve tried to close this clinic twice in the past 15 years,” he said. “It’s clear they don’t want it there. Until this lease is signed, we cannot stop this fight. If we hadn’t complained and protested and fought, we would still be stuck with this one-year lease. They probably wouldn’t have engaged either if Rep. Moulton hadn’t been in the room, but we shouldn’t need an involved congressman to treat our veterans with respect. The data they were using to shut it down was wrong, and we called them on it.
Weeks later, members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee announced that they would not allow the AIR Commission process to proceed, which takes the Salem consolidation plan off the table.
Sweeney says both outcomes are best-case scenarios for the Lynn veterans, but the new five-year lease has yet to be signed.
“We’re lucky now that we have a reprieve, but we have to keep defending it,” Sweeney said. “I don’t think it’s enough to sign the lease. We not only want to keep the clinic open, but also expand it. Our veterans deserve to receive services in their own community, without being limited by transportation.
Sweeney said Bedford VA is hosting an open house at the Lynn Clinic, 225 Boston St., Oct. 15 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sweeney encouraged veterans to attend and register with VA health care and apply to become patients at the Lynn Clinic.
Sweeney also suggested that veterans and their supporters contact VA New England Network Director Ryan Lilly (781-687-4821) to urge the VA to sign the lease and commit to staying in Lynn for the five years that they promised.