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Editorial: Help veterans, but move the clinic

The announcement that a veterans clinic in Amherst is set to close at the end of this week, a month earlier than planned, is a stressor on veterans, but it is also a step – perhaps unintentional – toward what should happen, anyway: the reformation of the veterans’ health care system.

The current system is broken. Maintaining complexes results in underfunding, understaffing and poor oversight. The private sector is capable of serving veterans. The services would be federally funded.

Such will be the case now that a health care center that serves veterans in Amherst is closing on Friday, a month earlier than the previously announced date of Oct. 1. And, yes, the center offers camaraderie for Western New York veterans. It’s one reason the news of the closing hit hard. It’s an important factor that needs to be addressed.

Veterans’ families and members of Congress expressed outrage. Both Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, want the agency to reverse its decision. VA officials remain firm. It is the better option. Veterans will still get the care they need.

It is difficult timing for some families scrambling to find other alternatives and believing that they’re not getting guidance. If true, VA officials must resolve the problems. No veteran should be left without resources.

However, the argument that the clinic is the only place where veterans can receive proper treatment and have a sense of camaraderie is false. Certainly, the private sector is capable of providing high quality service. The private sector is not perfect and has had its own problems, but the scandalous headlines surrounding many VA hospitals, including in this region, offer a persuasive argument that the system is not working. It is better to replace the model by using federal dollars to fund veterans’ care in the private sector.

About 37 patients per day use the center at 3131 Sheridan Drive near Bailey Avenue. The average is a couple of visits per week for physical and occupational therapy in group settings. The center also provides rehabilitative care for veterans with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

The sense of companionship and understanding is special. These veterans have something in common: They served their country. They deserve care and respect and they can have that, even with a change in how their care is delivered. This is a transition. The VA and the community need to help smooth the way.

With all due respect, this system is in need of disruption. Veterans deserve consistent high-quality health care, even if it means that care is delivered in a private facility.

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