Lynn VA may close
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 are opposed to the possible closing of the VA clinic in Lynn. (Spenser Hasak)
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LYNN — A recommendation from Bedford Veterans Health System to build or lease a larger out-of-town veterans clinic would cause the Boston Street clinic to close.
The recommendation was announced on Monday evening and has been submitted to the Assets and Infrastructure Review Board (AIR) for consideration. If approved, two clinics located in Lynn and Gloucester will close to make way for a larger multiclinic in Salem.
Brigadier General Andrea Gayle-Bennett, a veteran who fought in Iraq, said closing the clinic would reduce equitable accessibility for veterans.
“When you look at the stats, Lynn is 100,000,” Gayle-Bennett said. “It’s a predominantly minority town. If you’re talking fair accessibility, moving to a predominantly white neighborhood isn’t the answer. »
According to VA Inspector General Report No. 21-002-60-232, dated September 9, 2021, 2,000 patients are enrolled at the clinic. Lynn is home to the largest number of minority veterans in the state, according to the 2020 United States Census.
Afghan veteran and Purple Heart recipient Dan Cote also opposed the recommendation and said driving to Salem would be inconvenient.
“The main reason I use this clinic is for my therapy sessions,” Cote said. “I can just come in and do a health check whenever I need to. If I drive to Bedford or Jamaica Plain, that’s a big inconvenience.
Kat Bailey, public affairs manager and congressional liaison for the VA Bedford Healthcare System (VA Bedford), said there was no final decision to close the two clinics, despite the recommendation’s suggestion for the multiclinic.
“It is important to note that all recommendations to the upcoming AIR Commission are just that – recommendations,” Bailey said. “Nothing changes now for veterans’ access to care or VA employees.”
According to Bailey, the benefits of a large clinic in Salem would serve the three communities of Lynn, Gloucester and Salem and provide more comprehensive services.
“The VA would only pursue changes in Lynn and Gloucester as part of a larger plan, which included a new site in Salem,” she said. “Any potential changes to VA’s health care infrastructure may take several years and are dependent on the decisions of the commission, the president, and Congress, as well as strong stakeholder engagement and planning.”
Bailey said she doesn’t know when a final decision will be made.
Lynn Veterans Services Director Michael Sweeney said the recommendation put Lynn veterans at a disadvantage. He said expanded services could be provided at the Lynn Clinic if the department chooses to invest in its expansion.
“They say the multi-clinic referral would provide more expansive services to veterans,” Sweeney said. “Why can’t we do this to Lynn?”
Ahead of the announcement, a meeting was held Monday night between Sweeney, representatives from VA Bedford, Mayor Jared Nicholson and other city officials. Sweeney said the goal was to get clarification from the department if Lynn was still part of the conversation.
Additionally, Sweeney said the city requested access to data and information collected by the department to write the recommendation.
No additional information was provided other than the number of veterans in the area, he said.
Sweeney said the recommendation was made without input from veterans and no public forum was announced by the department. He said the department would hold meetings in the future, but no immediate timetable was given.
“It’s the same plan they came up with 15 years ago when they tried to move the clinic to Gloucester,” Sweeney said. “At the time, we were holding public forums, expressing our displeasure with the decision and now they’re doing it again.”