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McGovern vows to 'frustrate any effort' to close Northampton VA, while Neal plans appeal to Biden

The Edward P. Boland Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northampton, home of the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System.
Kevin Gutting
/
Daily Hampshire Gazette / gazettenet.com
The Edward P. Boland Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northampton, part of the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System.

Members of Congress representing western Massachusetts say they'll use a variety of strategies to beat back a proposal to close the veterans medical complex in Northampton.

The move was part of a national plan formally released Monday by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which proposes shifting services currently provided in Northampton to Springfield and Newington, Connecticut — and to outside providers.

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern said he'll have a very direct conversation about this with the secretary of veterans affairs, Denis McDonough.

"And if necessary, he should come out and see what's out here, first hand," McGovern said Monday. "Secondly, there are some creative things that we can do, that I don't want to get into right now. But I'm the chairman of the Rules Committee. No bill goes to the floor without going through my committee. So I'm looking at all options to try to frustrate any effort that would shut down that facility."

The VA said the goal is to relocate care to places with larger veteran populations nearby.

But Rep. Richie Neal said the plan to close the Northampton facility is unreasonable.

"It would need congressional approval and it would need the signature of the president.," Neal said. "So, at the right moment, I would raise it with the president himself."

While the plan does require approval of the president, it does not require explicit congressional approval, although Congress may pass a "resolution of disapproval" rejecting the final report.

But first, the recommendations released Monday go to a VA commission, which has 10 months to review and revise the plan.

Veterans groups in the area plan to contact Neal and McGovern, as well as the two senators from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, to express their support for the Northampton facility.

Tim Niejadlik is the director of the Upper Pioneer Valley Veterans Services district, which covers 25 communities in Franklin County and one in Hampshire County.

He said the additional travel time would cause an undue burden for elderly veterans he serves.

"Here in the next week, our organization will be having a meeting, and we'll probably form a letter and attach all our signatures to that to go to people like [Sens.] Markey and Warren and [Reps.] Neal and McGovern," he said.

Niejadlik said he's hoping concerned citizens will also contact those members of Congress.

Sam Hudzik contributed.

Updated: March 14, 2022 at 11:20 PM EDT
Updated to include new comments from Reps. Jim McGovern and Richard Neal.
Before joining New England Public Media, Alden was a producer for the CBS NEWS program 60 Minutes. In that role, he covered topics ranging from art, music and medicine to business, education, and politics. Working with correspondent Morley Safer, he reported from locations across the United States as well as from India, Costa Rica, Italy, and Iraq.
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