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Vets to Meeks: We deserve better health care

"We're not being treated like the heroes we are," said Rudolph Barnes, a Vietnam-era veteran who currently lives at the Borden Avenue Veterans Residence.Meeks dubbed the event a "Veterans Town Hall," and said he wanted to give veterans a chance to publicly voice their concerns about a variety of issues. The veterans in attendance told Meeks in no uncertain terms that veterans deserve better health care. They also complained that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has not done enough to help homeless veterans, including the 400 or so at the Borden Avenue facility, where residents said conditions have deteriorated.Meeks has recently found himself in somewhat of a delicate position in the veterans community, largely because he has thrown his weight behind a proposal to build three schools on the campus of the St. Albans Veterans Hospital.The U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs recently released plans for the renovation of its medical facility in St. Albans. These plans include a proposal to reuse about 30 acres of the 55-acre campus. Community activists, led by Meeks, are lobbying for an educational complex.The federal government indicated a recent public meeting that the land could be leased to a developer, possibly for an independent living facility.However, many in the veterans community view reusing the land for a purpose that would not enhance service for veterans as a direct affront to the sacrifices they have made for their county.At the outset of Tuesday's meeting, Meeks said he wanted to focus on the conversation of "services for veterans" and not the situation involving the St. Albans hospital campus.But some veterans could not help themselves. One man pointed out that some 30,000 service members have been injured in Iraq and asked Meeks if he still felt there was "excess" land in St. Albans that could be used for schools.Pat Toro, president of the Queens chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, also told Meeks that there "no way to talk about veterans issues" without addressing what will happen on the St. Albans campus. Toro specifically criticized a proposal to provide J. Foster Phillips funeral home, which abuts the VA hospital, with an easement to expand its parking lot."I could care less about a parking lot at a funeral home," Toro said to applause. "It's important we get what we need in St. Albans."Reach reporter Craig Giammona by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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