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St. Albans VA bill stalls in U.S. Senate

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A Queens veterans advocate said he is confident the U.S. Senate will listen to the community’s concerns and pass a bill that would prevent any private development at the St. Albans VA Hospital.

The legislation, which passed in the House of Representatives last month as part of a military spending bill, was taken off the Senate version of the bill by the Senate Subcommittee on Military Construction, the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department said a few weeks ago.

A week after the House bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), passed, the Veterans Administration announced it was ending its plan to lease 25 acres of the 55-acre hospital land to a private developer and build a new medical facility with the remaining land.

The initial proposal by the federal government was met with staunch criticism from both the community and veterans, such as Pat Toro, who wanted a full-scale hospital and no new development in the area.

Toro, president of the Queens chapter of the Vietnam Veterans Association of America, said the stalling of Meeks’ bill in the Senate does not worry him too much because U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) were not on that subcommittee and have both pledged their support to the veterans’ needs.

“I don’t think it takes away from the victory,” he said.

Toro said that despite the VA’s change of plans, the bill should be passed because the thousands of returning soldiers in the borough and Nassau County needed reassurance that their needs would be met.

“It is fine that the [lease deal] is done, but without that bill, what’s to stop them from coming back again?” he asked.

A spokeswoman for Meeks’ office said the congressman was working with the New York U.S. Senate members´╗┐ and others to see that the bill passes there. Toro added that Schumer’s office also gave him a call two weeks ago and said he would work to pass the bill.

“They are looking to push through and make it law,” he said. “I came away with a good feeling.”

The VA did not comment about the bill before press time Tuesday.´╗┐

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

Updated 11:59 am, October 12, 2011
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