By Rick Pezzullo
Throngs of veterans and elected officials joined Congresswoman Nan Hayworth (R-NY) Friday in Buchanan to celebrate her recent introduction of legislation aimed at preserving services at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt VA Hospital in Montrose and protect the land from being developed.
“I felt it was important to take a stand on this,” Hayworth said outside Buchanan Village Hall. “This day is about service, it is about honor, it is about the depth and breadth of patriotism. This is a day to save Montrose and save Castle Point. This is a day to celebrate.”
The bill, H.R. 2642, dubbed the Hudson Valley VA Health Care Campus Protection Act, seeks to protect the Montrose and Castle Point campuses, which are both located in Hayworth’s Congressional District (19), from the sale, lease or disposal by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA).
The main thrust of the legislation is driven by the instability of the Montrose property, which the DVA officials have targeted since 2004 to downsize and relocate services to Castle Point and Nyack. Also on the table are plans to have 400 housing units built on 160 of the 172 acres, along with a downgrading of medical, physical and psychological services.
Cortlandt officials have been waging a spirited fight against the plans, and Hayworth praised Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi for her vigilance.
“You are the hero of this movement,” Hayworth said. “Linda’s advocacy on this issue was very moving when I first learned about it. She made it clear this was a very important issue.”
Puglisi, the daughter of a World War II veteran, said having Hayworth’s support would provide a boost to the town’s efforts.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Puglisi said. “We kept up the hope. This bill will be heard throughout Washington.”
Cortlandt Councilman Frank Farrell said it was nice to see Hayworth accomplish something that her predecessor, Congressman John Hall, never saw fit to propose.
“He was kind of ambivalent on this,” Farrell said, noting Hall’s focus seemed to be helping individual veterans. “It would be great if Nan Hayworth can help us. I hope she can pull it off.”
There are more than 70,000 veterans in the 19th Congressional District and New York State ranks 6th in the nation in terms of its veterans’ population. One of those veterans is William Nazario, a Vietnam veteran and chairman of Cortlandt’s veteran’s council, who has traveled to Washington, DC to lobby for the preservation of the VA hospital in Montrose, which ranks No.1 in the United States among veterans hospitals for treating veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“This is a great day. This is a major first step but we still have to get everyone else on board,” Nazario said. “This is not a congressional district issue. It transcends the borders of New York. We are not poker chips. We are veterans. We served and we deserve our services. It is ours. We earned it. We are not asking for handouts.”
Another veteran, Karl Rohde of Putnam County, said VA hospitals are more needed than ever with servicemen returning home with catastrophic injuries.
“This is not a time to pale down veteran facilities. We also have an aging veterans’ population,” he said. “Don’t balance the budget on the backs of veterans.”
State Assemblyman Robert Castelli, head of the Assembly’s Committee on Veterans Affairs, said he utilizes the services at the VA Hospital and urged the veterans to keep the pressure on Washington D.C.
“It’s time for us to make noise. It is critical that we support this issue,” he said. “You kept your promise to serve this great nation and now it’s time for this great nation to support you.”
Hayworth said she expected a lot of support from the New York congressional delegation and was confident of getting widespread support. “We need to push this bill through,” she said.