May 18, 2007 – A freshman congressman is trying to keep a veterans hospital open by arguing that its placid grounds can provide the perfect setting for treating soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Veterans Administration is considering closing the 115-acre Livermore VA Medical Center campus, which includes a hospital and nursing home, as well as an outpatient clinic called French Camp.
It is also weighing an expansion of the facility, and a decision by agency Secretary Jim Nicholson is expected by late spring or early summer.
Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., pressed Nicholson on the subject in a letter sent Thursday.
McNerney said he believes a decision to shutter the facility is “imminent,” based on his conversations with patients who have been directed toward other VA clinics.
“I believe one of the ways we can meet the needs of our veterans is to maintain and perhaps expand services offered at the Livermore VAMC,” McNerney wrote.
“With the creation of a new generation of veterans increasingly afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder, I believe we must not only maintain services at the Livermore VAMC and French Camp Outpatient Clinic, but also expand the services offered to meet the need for PTSD-specific treatment,” he wrote.
“The Livermore facility, with its tranquil and relaxing setting, provides the perfect location for the type of treatment PTSD sufferers require,” he said.
Earlier this month, a panel of medical experts reported a surge in the number of veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. Claims increased from 120,265 in 1999 to 215,871 in 2004 and payments jumped from $1.72 billion to $4.28 billion in the same period, a combined committee from the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council said.
The largest share of claims is still coming from Vietnam War veterans, but there are expected to be many more claims in the future from personnel who served in the first Gulf War and in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the panel said.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder some people develop as a result of experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, such as military violence.
Kerri Childress, spokeswoman for the VA Palo Alto Health Care System which includes the Livermore campus, said there is no hard timeline for when Nicholson may make a decision.
VA spokeswoman Laurie Tranter said Friday she could not predict what Nicholson will do.
“The secretary is aware of the strong feelings regarding the Livermore campus and issues of access to long-term care and outpatient services,” Tranter said. The agency seeks “to ensure that all aspects of concern to veterans are considered prior to making a decision,” she said.