Outrageous and ridiculous are two words that Cortlandt Town Supervisor used to describe the federal Department of Veterans Affairs’ plans to lease part of the Montrose VA campus.
“I could use stronger language. I will not,” Puglisi said, drawing a laugh from a crowd of about 75 older veterans, who share her sentiment.
Puglisi joined the Cortlandt Veterans Committee and the Montrose Action Commitee to hold a rally on the front lawn of the Thursday afternoon to put pressure on the federal VA to not only keep Montrose open, but to enhance services there.
The groups argue that older veterans need services close to home – the next closest campuses are in the Bronx and at Castle Point- that younger veterans with PTSD and TBI need the services now, and that as veterans return home from Afghanistan the need will only grow. They also point out that veterans don’t always seek help right away and it is less likely they would get help without the Montrose VA in the Westchester and Putnam area. "The numbers will only increase," speakers warned.
“We must stay vigilant to make sure the VA does not go back to Congress to have another EUL,” said Puglisi. The local campus had been under the VA’s Enhance Use Lease plan, which expired this March. Under the plan, the campus would have allowed the VA to lease 160 acres of the campus’ 172 acres to private developers.
Before the EUL expired the VA told Patch that the plan would “provide new housing opportunities for veterans, such as senior housing, assisted living and housing for homeless or at-risk veterans and their families,” according to the Montrose campus spokeswoman Nancy Winter. But town officials and veterans say there was no guarantee the housing would be only for veterans.
About a dozen speakers, politicians and veterans, all emphasized the same points, explaining that younger war veterans and current military members will need the Montrose VA services now and in the future.
“It was promised to them, let’s give it to them,” said William Nazario, Commander of Chapter 21 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Nazario told the crowd they are blessed and cursed by the VAs location because it is located on the Hudson River with the train tracks behind it, making it prime real estate for the VA to cash in on, rather than to use for veterans services, he said.
Speakers said the VA is attempting to push services to the Castle Point and Bronx campuses in order to turn the Montrose location into a “ghost town.”
“Washington is looking to balance the budget on the backs of veterans and that can’t happen,” said Nazario. Chairman of the Veterans Advocacy Council (VAC) at the Montrose FDR VA Campus, Eugene Parrotta, said the VA is spending money, but not there. He said the VA is planning to build 250 units for homeless veterans at another campus in a wealthy area in the country.
“What they don’t have is money for this campus. They don’t want this here,” he said.
“We can’t let it become unusable,” said County Legislator John Testa. Testa added that he rallied the County government to pass a resolution in support of the veterans’ position.
The Town has held similar rallies in order to keep the pressure on the federal VA to stop cutbacks and enhance services.
“They are at capacity in this facility,” said Buchanan Mayor Sean Murray. “We need to expand services here.”
Nazario rhetorically asked the crowd why the Montrose campus can’t be used for housing for homeless veterans, assisted living or senior housing for veterans.
While many speakers focused on the current and future needs of younger veterans returning home with TBI or PTSD, they also noted that older veterans rely on the campus and would have a difficult time traveling further for treatments.
“I live five miles away from here. I don’t want this closed. I don’t want this reduced either,” said Jack Sakalian, a local veteran who uses the campus for services.
Town councilman Frank Farrell, who is also a veteran, said veterans need the public to fight for these services.
“We owe more than just our gratitude. We owe them services,” Farrell said.
Do you support the Cortlandt Veterans Committee and town officials fight for the VA? Tell us why in the comments.