Veterans’ advocates who have been endlessly protesting to get a full-service hospital at the St. Albans VA site have hit another road block, but they aren’t letting that stop them. They plan to take their fight to Washington DC in the coming months in hopes of aiding their cause — to prevent the partial privatization of VA land.
“We don’t want it. We are against it. We are united,” has become a mantra for Andrea Scarborough of the United Coalition for Veteran and Community Rights.
Her group and other veterans organizations are planning a trip to the nation’s capital to picket the office of Eric Shinseki, secretary of veterans affairs, and to lobby Congress to get the project stopped.
They also plan to meet with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to ask him to introduce legislation to prohibit the privatization of 25 acres of land at the St. Albans campus. Scarborough noted that a similar project in California was terminated when elected officials enacted a similar law.
And there is still time to halt the project, in which a developer would get a long term lease on the land to build private housing in exchange for reconstructing the federal facilities, since the lease process is in its early stages. Getting Schumer, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) and Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) on board is a good place to start. They wrote a letter to Shinseki in favor of a hospital, though the idea was not accepted.
The St. Albans project has been a source of controversy for months, with the VA believing that replacing the existing facilities with a new nursing home, psychosocial rehabilitation domiciliary and expanded outpatient facilities is the way to go, despite consistent opposition from stakeholders.
If approved, the chosen development team St. Albans Village, LLC, which consists of three firms — GGT Development, D&F Development and Holland Horizon Development Corp. — will get the lease.
In his Nov. 8 reply to Meeks, Shinseki said he is aware of stakeholder concerns, but “due to the diminishing veteran population, the VA is not considering a full-service medical center for the St. Albans campus.” He did not send responses to Schumer or Gillibrand, according to Scarborough.
Shinseki cited data compiled by the National Center For Analysis and Statistics, which projects a significant decrease in the veteran populations of Queens, Nassau and Suffolk counties. Scarborough called the data “bogus, flawed and inaccurate,” stating that it used information from the 2000 Census, which doesn’t take into account the surge in the amount of veterans since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which began in 2001 and 2003 respectively.
Shinseki also said that a smaller percentage of those veterans are eligible for VA healthcare and not all of them choose to utilize the services. The VA does, however, project a need for geriatric and ambulatory care for the aging, according to Shinseki, therefore a state-of-the-art facility is being planned to replace the current St. Albans Community Living Center.
Female veterans already receive primary and specialty care in the ambulatory care clinic at the St. Albans facility, but if demand increases more services would be added, Shinseki assured in his letter. He added that veterans in Queens, Nassau and Suffolk counties can access VA hospital services in Manhattan or Brooklyn in 60 minutes by car. Area veterans say they deserve a facility closer to home.
But Shinseki’s response did not go over well with CB 12 Chairwoman Adjoa Gzifa, who told attendees at the group’s monthly meeting last Wednesday, “Please get ready to do what you have to do to make sure we stop this. Just because they say it’s a done deal, doesn’t mean we are going to lay down and say that it’s a done deal.”
Scarborough, wife of Assemblyman Bill Scarborough (D-Jamaica), says her husband will be joining the vets groups for the Washington trip, which she estimates will take place in January or February, and expects a large turn out.
“You don’t get things done by staying at home and doing nothing,” she said. “We have to bring attention to this issue. The community is against it. The veterans are against it, and yet they continue to disregard our wishes.”