Woman found at VA hospital was strangled

A hospital employee was the first to find the body behind Building 11, a vacant structure that sits on a remote part of the 184-acre property. Police have released little information on their investigation, labeling the death only as suspicious and saying that they are still looking into what might have happened. An autopsy is planned for today.

Rasa had no known ties to the hospital, either as a patient or as an employee, said state police Lt. Dominick Chiumento of the Cortlandt barracks.

"I'm not sure why she's there," said Chiumento, adding that she had multiple addresses in Peekskill. "We're still trying to figure that out."

Police asked the hospital to provide surveillance video from the grounds to help in the investigation.

Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi said the discovery of the body is "the first incident of this serious magnitude" that she is aware of during her 18 years of service with the town.

"I am very saddened by this tragic incident," she said.

Officials said the circumstances surrounding the woman's death remain unclear, including whether a crime had been committed.

Josephine Schuda, a Department of Veterans Affairs spokeswoman in Washington, said that until it has been determined that a crime was committed, no decision would be made about whether to call in the FBI, which would have some jurisdiction in such cases.

The suspicious nature of the death stunned patients, employees and residential neighbors alike. The bucolic property sits along the banks of the Hudson River with expansive views of the water.

"It's a very quiet area," said Paul Krick, who lives next to the VA campus. "It's the first time I've heard of something like (this) in 40 years."

He said he often strolls on the campus, finding it perfectly safe.

Still others said they believe security is lax.

"It's terrible that it happened here. I think they need more security," said Walter Hollis, a post-Vietnam War-era veteran and patient at the hospital.

Many of the buildings on the property sit vacant, which might have been a contributing factor in the death, some said.

"Security needs to do a better job checking the vacant buildings around campus," said Glenn Richards, a Navy veteran who works at the hospital.

Bill Davis, president of Local 1119 of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the union has repeatedly asked administrators to improve the "poor lighting" and increase the size of the police force, which has fewer than 30 officers to cover all shifts.

"We have been begging for more police officers," Davis said.

William Nazario of Montrose, commander of Chapter 21 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, has long lobbied to convert one of the empty buildings on the campus to house women veterans only. Last month, he took his concerns about cutbacks in spending at Montrose campus to members of Congress in Washington..

"The female veteran population is larger today than ever and we have to gear up to give them services in separate quarters, especially with the rate of rape and sexual harassment so high in the current military," Nazario said.

The 301-bed hospital, which opened in 1950, is among the top 20 employers in Westchester, with staff of 1,000 or more, according to a recent report by the state Comptroller's Office.

A plan by the Department of Veterans Affairs to move more services from Montrose to the VA hospital at Castle Point in Fishkill and to lease most of the Montrose acreage to a developer for 75 years has angered local veterans and worried many of the VA's employees. More medical services are needed at Montrose for aging veterans and those returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, veterans and supporters said.

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