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Higgins, veterans urge VA to leave Amherst care center open

Thomas O'Neil-White, WBFO

Congressman Brian Higgins joined local veterans Thursday outside an Amerst-based center that is slated to close at the end of September. Their message to the Department of Veterans Affairs: keep the Adult Day Health Care center open. Higgins also suggested the VA's explanation for closing it doesn't entirely make sense.

Veterans who attend the center currently have until the end of September to find alternative care. The VA, according to previous written correspondence with WBFO, will continue to cover services.

The program offers physical therapy, medication management, meals and other services. Veterans, though, say more it is more importantly a place where they may continue their special bond with fellow veterans.

"We as a community, this community of yours, those who have benefitted from this program, those who are committed to the health care of our veterans here, this program is designed to keep people out of the hospital and into their homes," Higgins said. 

The VA announced in July it is closing the center, located within the Northtown Plaza off Sheridan Drive, because it is losing its lease and the building, as part of a broader redevelopment of the plaza, was scheduled for eventual demolition. 

Higgins on Thursday said that supposed demolition is not true. The current owners of the property, WS Development Associates, back that up in a written statement released by Higgins' office.

"We have no plans to demolish this building in the near term, and there is no need or want, on our part to see the veterans leave," said Brian Sciera, senior vice president in that prepared written statement. "We are more than willing to work with the VA in the interim. In fact, we would offer the existing space, rent free, for the next six months while the VA figures out their plans."

When asked earlier this month whether the VA had explored other nearby locations to move the Adult Day Health Care center, a spokesperson explained in an email to WBFO that the cost to lease elsewhere would be approximately triple its rate at its current location.

Among the veterans speaking to keep the center open was Steven Banko, a highly-decorated Vietnam veteran who also served previously in former Buffalo mayor Anthony Masiello's administration. He stated there are new generations of veterans who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan who will one day need the services provided in Amherst. He also suggested what's slated to close in Amherst should instead be a model for the VA nationwide.

"They should be replicating this all over the country," he said. "This should become a VA best practice, not something we should be fighting."

WBFO's Thomas O'Neil-White contributed to this story.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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