U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) has joined the opposition to the federal government’s plans for reconstructing the St. Albans Veterans Hospital and sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, urging it to rethink the proposal to develop part of the acreage for private use.
Last year, the VA selected St. Albans Village LLC as its preferred developer for the project, which would include the demolition of the current 55-acre medical center, rebuild it as a modern, 35-acre facility and use the rest of the land for private use.
In August, a representative from St. Albans Village said the developer would like to include an apartment building, school and jazz center.
In his letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Ackerman said Queens needed a bigger facility to address the growing needs of new veterans in the borough.
“I am concerned that the current St. Albans facility, under the [Enhanced Use Lease plan], would be inadequate for the burgeoning needs of returning Afghanistan and Iraq veterans,” he wrote. “The EUL process should be suspended until an appropriate study of veterans’ needs is conducted and a plan for a full-service Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) at St. Albans is developed.”
Ackerman has called for more research to be done to help veterans and called the data used for the EUL insufficient and outdated. The VA used a 2006 Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services report while it was drawing up its proposal for the land, which contended the veteran population in New York City was declining, according to Ackerman.
The congressman noted the report contained data that is now seven years old and does not make significant references to soldiers fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq.
“The report only briefly mentions mental-health services; there is no specific mention of traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder,” he wrote in the letter.
“I do not understand how any rational study could have led to the conclusion that demand for mental-health services will significantly decline in the coming years,” Ackerman said later in the letter.
A representative from the VA said the agency was still going over St. Albans Village’s plans and said its top priority is to give the veterans a better hospital.
Since the announcement in August, veterans and community leaders have been protesting the VA over its plans to lease the land for development instead of using all the space for the hospital.
Adjoa Gzifa, chairwoman of Community Board 12 and a staunch opponent of the VA’s plans for the hospital, supported Ackerman’s request.
“Hopefully, they will listen and give us what we are asking for. We need all the advocates we can get,” she said.
Ackerman asked the secretary to suspend the EUL and perform another Capital Asset Realignment study so that the plan could be revised immediately.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4546.
©2011 Community News Group
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