Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) and Rep. Peter King (R-Nassau) have introduced a bill that would prohibit the planned private development of the St. Albans Veteran’s Administration site.
The St. Albans project has been a source of controversy for years, with the VA believing that replacing the existing facilities with a new nursing home, rehabilitation domiciliary and expanded outpatient facilities is the way to go, despite consistent opposition from many veterans. A private developer would build the facilities in exchange for a long-term lease on part of the site where it would put up housing and stores open to the general public.
Many vets, however, are against any lease to a private entity and instead want a full-service hospital there, so servicemen and women in Queens and Nassau counties don’t have to travel to Brooklyn and Manhattan for care.
“You can’t put a price tag on a vet’s life,” said Andrea Scarborough of the United Coalition for Veterans and Community Rights and the wife of Assemblyman Bill Scarborough (D-Jamaica). “They didn’t put a price on their lives when they went to war.”
Meeks said if the bill passes, the government will not be able to override it and it will effectively kill the project. When asked where the money would come from to repair the VA site and for the full service hospital, Meeks noted that the facility was about 15th in line to receive federal funding for repairs. The enhanced use lease process just bumped it up in line.
Even if the project is terminated, the fight for a full-service hospital will continue because the VA contends it is not an option, citing a decline in the New York metropolitan-area veteran population.
Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Queens and Nassau) supports Meeks’ legislation and in February sent a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, stating that he is troubled the VA is proceeding with the EUL process without a comprehensive study of the healthcare needs of current and future veterans.
Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens and Bronx), who also supports the bill, believes the land at the St. Albans VA should be entirely reserved for the use of veterans, whether it be for a new full-service hospital, a veterans retirement home, or another VA facility to meet the growing needs of the community’s veterans.
“Is it expensive to care for our veterans? Yes. But, to abandon our veterans comes at a much higher cost — both morally and financially,” Crowley said in an email. “America’s support for our veterans must not be based on a cold calculation of what is the right price, but rather simply what is right.”
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan and Queens) also expressed support for the bill, stating that she hopes it “will put to rest efforts to privatize this important resource for veterans in our community.”
Reps. Nydia Valasquez (D-Queens and Brooklyn) and Anthony Weiner (D-Queens and Brooklyn) did not respond to several requests for comment.
Earlier this month, the City Council unanimously passed a non-binding resolution expressing its opposition to the VA plan.
While pleased about the passage of the resolution and the bill introduced by Meeks and King, Vietnam veteran Steve Epps is not sure that either will terminate the project. Epps said the plan does not benefit veterans or the community and that’s why so many activists are determined to see it stopped.
“The thing that they can count on is that we are not going to give up,” Epps said. “We are not going to sit by idly and let them destroy our community. We are in it for the long haul. Justice is justice.”
Jennifer Sammartino, a spokeswoman for the VA said in an email that the agency is aware of the legislation and “the VA continues to evaluate the draft development plan that was submitted in December, consistent with the enhanced use lease process.”