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VA upgrade plan angers vets

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More than two dozen Queens veterans gathered outside the St. Albans center to demand that the new facility include an emergency room and extended care facilities for both female veterans and the homeless - none of whom are included in the Veteran's Administra­tion's current plans."The VA has kept us out of the loop on this," said Veterans of Foreign Wars Jr. Vice Commander Marvin Jeffcoat. "We're not saying this is Walter Reed, but you're going to say you're going to build a new building and you're going to cut back the beds. That doesn't make sense."According to the VA, the current 231-bed medical center at 179th Street and Linden Boulevard will be demolished and replaced by a 221-bed center which will be built directly behind the current facility. Borough veterans fumed Saturday that the proposal also includes the possibility of using 25 acres on the 55-acre site that will be left over for private development, which could include a parking lot for a nearby funeral home or private residential development."You better make that funeral home lot real big because they're going to have a lot of veterans that are going to be dying without emergency care," said Queens Vietnam Veterans of America President Pat Toro.Former VFW State Commander Bernard Thompson said veterans of all wars in the area need to come together to support upgrades to the new facility and called for more area politicians to lend their support."They say they're behind us. But don't say you're behind me if you're not here today," Thompson said. "I don't need someone behind me, I need someone by my side."The veterans did get some support from borough politicians. Both state Sens. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) and Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale) expressed support, but could not attend because they were in Albany. City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton), a former Marine, arrived just moments after Thompson issued his statement and pledged his support. "A clinic is nice, but a hospital is much better," Sanders said. "We need to say whatever you're going to do, we need to be written in."He added: "This time let's have the dog wag the tail instead of the tail wagging the dog."The office of U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), who helped to set up a committee of vets and residents, said they were working hard with the Veterans Administration to ensure the renovations would be done with everyone's best interests in mind. Kim Fuller, Meeks' congressional liaison of veterans affairs, denied claims made by some vets at the protest that the congressman was lying to them and was going to support private development."There was no a plans to take anything away from the veterans. It's absolutely not true," she said in a phone interview.Meeks was in Africa last week and could not directly comment on the protest.--Ivan Pereira contributed to this storyReach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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