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Malone VA Clinic gets another extension

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On the day it was slated to close, the Malone Veterans Affairs Community-based Outpatient Clinic received a one month extension, pushing the closing date back to March 31.

“I don’t know if a month will help, but it’s a start,” local veteran Bruce Allen said. Allen added he’s certain all the veterans in and around Malone are hoping the clinic won’t close because “a lot of them are up in age and not driving.” He would certainly prefer staying in Malone.

Veteran Hal Queyor agreed, saying local veterans spent a lot of time and money to get the clinic going some 15 years ago — a lot of long meetings with VA officials and hard work. To see the clinic close would be a disappointment, so “we’re happy to hear it’s extended one month,” he said.

The clinic was originally scheduled to close in August, but was granted an extension until the end of February after U.S. Rep. Bill Owens intervened with the Veterans Administration.

“This extension is good news for veterans in Franklin County,” Owens said Friday in a news release. “I am pleased veterans who visit the Malone clinic will have continued access to VA services at a convenient location for an additional month. It is vital that the VA continue to provide veterans in the North Country with the best possible care.”

If the Malone clinic closes, local veterans will have to travel to Massena, Saranac Lake or Plattsburgh to receive treatment.

All medical records will be transferred to one of the three closest clinics, depending on what a veteran prefers.

Owens had sent Stratton VA Medical Center director Linda Weiss a letter in early February citing concerns that some veterans who had transferred from the Malone clinic to ones in Plattsburgh and Massena had been placed on waiting lists to receive care. If the Malone clinic were to close, hundreds more would be forced to join them, he said.

Allen said he hopes the VA office will be able to at least set up a bus service to help Malone-area veterans travel to and from Massena and Saranac Lake. His biggest worry is that local veterans will just be left to fend for themselves.

Regarding the clinic possibly staying open he said, “I’m still not giving up hope yet.”

When the state decided to close the clinic in May, Bonnie Stewart, deputy director of the Franklin County Veterans Service Agency, said it was serving 699 veterans; at its peak, it was serving 820, according to Weiss. There are 4,079 veterans in the county, Stewart said in October.

As of Friday afternoon the county Veterans Service Agency had still not received news of the extension; agency employee Robbin Roser said, “We haven’t been told anything so we can’t comment. As far as we know this is the last day.”

Stewart said in early February that she was still approached by veterans every day who voiced their dissatisfaction with the clinic closing.

“I don’t blame them for being sad or discouraged,” she said. “I’m sad and discouraged. ... If I could force Albany into keeping this clinic, I would.”

The Malone clinic has been open since 1999. It was first located at the Alice Hyde Medical Center; it is now in the Cedar Commons plaza on U.S. Route 11.

Malone’s clinic is considered the third most expensive clinic in the nation. The average cost of care per veteran nationwide is $4,000 per year, but at the Malone clinic the figure skyrockets to $11,000. Stratton VA Public Affairs Officer Peter Potter was previously quoted saying that closing the Malone clinic would save $700,000 a year.

That money could be used to increase treatments such as telemedicine, telehealth and programs such as Home Based Primary Care at the other three nearby facilities, he said.

Multiple calls to Potter requesting comment went unanswered Friday.

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