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VA drops private development at St. Albans site

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The federal government has reversed its proposal to redevelop parts of the St. Albans VA Hospital, but former soldiers and elected officials said they will continue to fight to make sure the vets’ needs are completely fulfilled.

The Veterans Administration announced last Thursday that it was ending the Enhanced Use Lease for 25 out of the 55 acres of the facility following months of protest from elected officials, community activists and veterans from the borough and Nassau County.

A spokesman for the federal agency said it would now be focusing on making renovations to the 68-year-old medical facility instead of going with its original plan that included creating a new hospital from scratch on 30 acres.

“[The] VA remains committed to providing high-quality health care for the veterans of Queens,” Michael A. Sabo, the VA New York/New Jersey Health Care System Network director´╗┐, said in a statement.

The decision came a week after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill co-sponsored by Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) that would end the EUL ´╗┐process at the hospital.

“The decision by the VA to not move forward with the EUL process for the St. Albans VA will greatly benefit the nearly 400,000 veterans in the vicinity of my district,” he said in a statement.

Veterans, who decried the proposal that would have put a housing complex, school and jazz center on part of the property, said they were excited about the change of plans,´╗┐ but they added that the federal government needed to make a better commitment.

Pat Toro, president of the Queens chapter of the Vietnam Veterans Association of America, noted that when the VA announced its plans in 2006, it said the best solution for the building was for a brand-new facility.

“Now they are turning it around and saying they cannot give us a full-fledged hospital. It doesn’t make sense,” he said.

City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton), a former U.S. Marine, agreed. Sanders, who along with the rest of the Council voted on a resolution last month that also pushed for a reversal on the development, pointed out that the number of veterans in the area is growing and the St. Albans VA center was the closest facility for them.

“We cannot accept mediocrity. The fact of the matter is the current facility is antiquated,” he said.

Sanders acknowledged the removal of the EUL would constitute a better future for former soldiers in Queens.

The VA had chosen St. Albans Village LLC as its preferred developer last year.

One of the administrators of the development group was the Rev. Edwin Reed, a former associate of the Rev. Floyd Flake, and a member of the defunct nonprofit New Direction Local Development Corp., which is being investigated by the federal government for questionable spending practices.

He was jeered last summer when he presented his plans for the leased space that included a housing complex.

Both Meeks and Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) have both pledged to fight for the vets and try to get a new, full facility.

“We can never thank our veterans enough for the sacrifices they made to our nation. Now, we must do all we can to ensure that they receive the health services they require,” Ackerman said in a statement.

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

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