Veterans Rally Against Plans to Downsize Montrose VA
MONTROSE, N.Y. – John Pagliuca has received treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at the F.D.R. VA in Montrose since returning from the Vietnam War.
The lifelong Cortlandt resident fought in the Tet Offensive, a series of attacks by about 70,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces in more than 100 cities that began Jan. 31, 1968. While both sides claimed victory, it weakened public support for the war in the U.S. and marked the beginning of America’s withdrawal from the region.
Wednesday, Pagliuca joined a new fight to preserve the Montrose VA, which may have five of its 20 buildings “razed”, or torn, down in 2014, according to Willy Nazario, state commander for the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
“It will be a huge loss for the community,” Pagliuca said.
Together with Linda Puglisi, Cortlandt Town Supervisor, Nazario organized a rally to stop those plans in front of the VA Wednesday.
Nearly two months earlier, Nazario attended a meeting of the VA Volunteer Services and asked if the Military Order of the Purple Heart could use building 11 on the Montrose campus for a non-profit that would hire unemployed veterans. The facilities director told him that they plan on tearing down buildings 8,9, 10, 11 and 25, said Neil Gross, commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 21, who was also there.
“We were shocked. A gasp went around the room,” he said. “Willy looked at me and then I looked at him and we said, ‘how could this possibly be?’ And then we met with the interim director who verified everything.”
Pagliuca is president of a local chapter of the Rolling Thunder, a group of veterans and motorcyclists dedicated to remembering prisoners of war and those missing in action. Not only does he get treatment and medication for PTSD from the VA, Pagliuca said three of his uncles who served in World War II died in that VA.
“So, it’s personal,” he said after addressing a crowd of more than 50 people Wednesday.
Like all of the other speakers, the fast-talking veteran biker demanded accountability from the VA and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, which has proposed the downsizing. Quoting “My Bondage, My Freedom” by Frederick Douglas, Pagliuca said, “Power concedes nothing without demand.”
“And on this day we demand accountability,” he said.
There has been no official notification of the plan, said Puglisi who added she fears it won’t stop at five buildings.
“We believe this is a backdoor way to dismantle our VA, 25 percent of the buildings,” she said. “What happens if the next year they plan to demolish five more buildings, and then another five, and then pretty soon you know they only have the land left to have the developers come in and lease it not ‘soley for veterans.’”
Many speakers said they thought they would never again have to withstand another push to downsize the VA. Puglisi reminded the crowd of the fight against the enhanced use lease, which would have leased 172 of the 190 acres on the Montrose campus to private developers for housing that was, “not soley for veterans.” It expired Dec. 31, 2011, ending the threat of downsizing the VA, at the time.
“Our veterans have and are fighting for us, our families and our country and now we have to continue to fight for them,” Puglisi said.
Nazario said he has a patch that reads, “Not all wounds are visible.” The Purple Heart recipient was physically injured in battle. But, for those who suffer PTSD while serving their country, he said the Montrose VA offers the best care in the nation.
“The ‘premier’ PTSD unit at Montrose has serviced and continues to service our most needy veterans who are struggling to survive,” Nazario has said. “Thousands of new veterans being released from service and returning from Iraq and Afghanistan need these services more than ever.”
Buchanan Mayor Sean Murray said more veterans are surviving combat and coming home with those injuries you don’t see, but last the rest of their lives.
“We have to think about the returning veteran today,” he said. “This country has the best survival rates of their military of the entire world and in the history of the nation. But that comes at a cost. The person who survives today needs more care than at any time in history.”
Instead of taking down five buildings, the town is asking Veterans Affairs to revitalize the VA by remodeling those buildings into an education center or a trade school for returning and current veterans.
Puglisi and Murray were joined by other dignitaries from Cortlandt, Buchanan and Westchester County.
“Take the millions of dollars and do something for veterans. Don’t balance your budget on the backs of veterans. Revitalize the VA, don’t destroy and dismantle our VA,” she said.