Lawmakers Urge VA to Reconsider Closing Leeds Medical Center

Lawmakers Urge VA to Reconsider Closing Leeds Medical Center


Chandler Rand, a Marine veteran, has struggled with various eating disorders since she was a child. Though she says she's healthy now, she says her recovery is an ongoing process.

Though she says she's healthy now, she says she's still struggling with negative thoughts regarding her appearance and weight.

As Rand explains, it is similar to walking a tightrope.

In 2016, Rand was in the Marines. When she was a teenager, she was successfully treated for anorexia, but after boot camp, she began to binge eat and developed bulimia.

This meant meeting military standards for weight and fat. Meanwhile, she was dealing with a sexual assault that occurred in college.

Her eating habits were affected by the assault.

You just want to obsess over something besides panic and sadness, she says. "So you put your moral standards on food and fitness."

Representatives from the state's congressional delegation have asked the Veterans

Administration to reconsider closing the VA medical center in Leeds.

According to the letter, veterans in western and central Massachusetts will miss out on high-quality, specialized care if the hospital closes. The Central Western Massachusetts

Veterans Affairs Medical Center appeared in a list of facilities and services targeted for closure last month - as part of a process under the VA MISSION Act of 2018 to outsource veteran care to private-sector providers.

According to the lawmakers, many veterans would need to travel at least two hours roundtrip to receive care at VA medical centers in West Haven, Connecticut; Eastern Massachusetts; or Albany, New York. "Many of the approximately 21,000 veterans currently receiving care from the CWM VAMC would incur undue burdens as a result of their health status, advanced age, or lack of access to public transportation."

The effort was led by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, and seven of the state's eight other representatives. As a result, only Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Salem, did not sign the letter out of 11 U.S. senators and representatives from North Carolina. Moulton's spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The legislators point out that another area of "significant concern" is veterans' access to mental health services in a region that's already struggling. Among the services provided at the Leeds facility are residential rehabilitation programs for individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or substance abuse disorders.

The delegation also said removing the facility's 28-bed community living center would "put more strain on veterans who need nursing-home care."

Moving these services to Connecticut or Eastern Massachusetts may result in veterans not receiving the care they need, or putting a great deal of stress on their families.

The letter says the VA's Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission report relies on old data from fiscal years 2015 through 2018, so the proposed closure doesn't "reflect the hospital's current standing or future potential." They point out that more than $108 million has been spent on renovation and modernization since then.

Further, nearly $93,000,000 in future upgrades are planned, according to the letter. It has already invested significant resources to improve the facility, and its closure would be a waste of those investments. The lawmakers ask the VA to reconsider its proposal and state that they look forward to the AIR Commission's public hearing to express how important the Leeds facility is to "our veterans, their families, and the entire region."

Any changes made to the Leeds facility will take years to implement. A spokesperson for the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System noted in a statement after news of the closure broke that the AIR Commission has only made recommendations so far.

VA health care could be redesigned to maximize access and outcomes for current and future generations of veterans, said a statement.

Central Western Massachusetts Veteran Affairs Medical Center was built in 1923 and has become a destination for veterans in the region. Only three U.S. facilities were slated for closure according to the AIR Commission. Factors such as "significant maintenance issues and investment requirements" are cited in the report for the conclusion that the center is no longer adequate.

The report says the veteran population and demand for inpatient care are going down, while demand for outpatient services is going up, though some local legislators disagree.

Additionally, the report notes that the facility's location is no longer optimal due to the migration of a large veteran population to a "largely urban corridor that runs from Springfield, Massachusetts to Hartford, Connecticut, and across to Greater New Haven, Connecticut."