Queens veterans decry status of VA hospital

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Queens veterans said they were sick and tired of waiting in limbo on the future of the St. Albans VA Hospital while the state and federal governments fail move forward with upgrading the center.

More than a dozen vets joined southeast Queens elected officials and civic heads at the Linden House in St. Albans last Thursday night to discuss what they can do to get more information and input on the much-delayed plans to upgrade the VA facility.

The vets have had to deal with deteriorating conditions at the 67-year-old hospital and inadequate health services that are available at other VA hospitals outside of the borough.

“Please ... don’t let St. Albans become a glorified nursing home,” said vet James Casey.

In 2006, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced it would tear down the 55-acre hospital and build a new, state-of-the-art, 30-acre facility in its place. The remaining land would be leased to a private developer, according to the VA.

Since that time, however, no construction development has taken place for either the VA or on the private acres. Vets have criticized the plan because it gives them less space for health care, while residents who live near the hospital have expressed concern that the 25-acre space would be used to build out-of-character high rises that would charge high rents.

A spokesman for the VA said the agency has looked at developers who answered a request for proposal for the project but is awaiting final approval from the Office of Asset Enterprise management.

“Once they get approval to move forward, they will reach out to a preferred developer to enter into negotiations to discuss the request for proposal,” VA spokesman Ray Aalbue said.

The New York Post reported last week that the governor has been cutting the budget to veterans centers across the state.

Marvin Jeffcoat, commander of the Queens County Council of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said there are some 200,000 vets in Nassau County and Queens, but they are usually sent to hospitals farther away in Long Island, Brooklyn and even Manhattan for emergency care.

Fellow VFW member Steven Epps said if the hospital was upgraded and given more resources, like a women’s health center, it would meet the needs of at least half of the vets in Nassau and Queens.

“We’re not asking for anything extra. We want what was promised us in contract,” he said.

State Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans) said he would like to see the entire plot, which started out as a Naval hospital, converted for the VA medical facility.

“I would just say we need to collectively stand firm until we get what we need,” he said.

City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton), who sits on the Council Veterans Committee, agreed and urged the veterans not to pull their punches in their protests.

“We’re here because we went to sleep,” he said. “Until we organize and say we are against this ... you will always get killed.”

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

Updated 5:54 pm, October 10, 2011
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