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Meeks’ VA bill to keep hospital for vets passes

A bipartisan bill is in the works in Congress that would stop the controversial plans to redevelop part of the St. Albans Veterans Hospital into a private space.

The House passed the St. Albans Veterans Care Act that was introduced by U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) Tuesday afternoon. The bill, which passed by a vote of 409-1, changes the Enhanced Used Lease Process for the medical space in a way that benefits veterans, according to Meeks.

“The bill that we dropped basically prohibits the EUL process from a commercial developer from using the space,” the congressman said.

Meeks, who co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Peter King (R-Massapequa Park), said he has been pushing the U.S. Veterans Administration to change its plans for the hospital and commit to rebuilding a fully functional medical facility. The sole nay vote came from U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) while 22 House members abstained.

The congressman said that when the VA drafted its plans for the hospital five years ago, it used data that did not reflect the growing number of wounded soldiers who were returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The redevelopment plan promulgated by the Department of Veterans Affairs sadly neglects the views of these courageous men and women, instead leasing government property for private development,” said Meeks.

The VA currently is planning to tear down the 55-acre facility and rebuild a new hospital that takes up only 30 acres. The remaining land will be leased to private developers for other uses.

St. Albans Village LLC, which has been chosen as the private developer by the federal government, announced last summer that it was planning to build a new residential building, a school and a jazz center, much to the irritation and disappointment of borough veterans.

“Most of what they were talking about putting there would not benefit veterans,” Meeks said.

A spokesman for the VA said the agency has seen Meeks’ bill and “continues to evaluate the draft development plan submitted by the preferred developer.” St. Albans Village LLC’s plans for the property are not finalized, according to the VA.

The vets had asked for several new amenities, such as modern medical equipment and a women’s health center.

Meeks had he was confident the bill would pass both houses of Congress because of its bipartisan nature and also because many of his House colleagues, including Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), also supported the hospital’s complete renovation..

Last month, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution that pushed the federal government to commit to fully redeveloping the site as a medical center for veterans.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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