St. Albans VA supporters take fight to Web

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St. Albans VA Hospital supporters are using an Internet petition to get the government to provide them with better services.

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By Ivan Pereira

January 12, 2012

A group of concerned Queens residents is using the Internet to send a message to the president to get him to support a measure that would help halt any attempt to break up the site of the St. Albans VA hospital.

An online petition has been posted on the White House’s “We the People” Web page that calls on President Barack Obama to support the U.S. Senate bill that would bar anyone from selling part of the hospital’s land to private developers.

In the summer, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs stopped its plans to lease part of the 55-acre land to a private developer and renovate the rest of hospital space after years of criticism from community members and former soldiers from across the city.

The person who started the petition, who only listed his name as Rene H. of Jamaica, said the bipartisan bill 112 HR 1799 would guarantee the community would be ensured that a new hospital would serve the growing needs of veterans.

“A VA hospital would provide our vets the much-needed local medical care for traumatic brain injury, PTSD, women’s health issues and other critical problems. They now travel hours to get care,” the petition’s explanation said.

The VA declined to comment about the petition, which must have 25,000 signatures by Jan. 21 in order for it to receive a response from the White House. As of press time Tuesday evening, it had collected 103 names.

In June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill that was sponsored by Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) and Peter King (R-Massapequa Park) and is currently awaiting a vote in the Senate.

Meeks said several community groups were responsible for the online petition and he said it was a good step to get the attention of the power brokers in Washington.

“It is an excellent idea by the community and I support it,” he said.

State Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans), who has been advocating for an updated full-scale hospital for years, linked to the online petition on his Twitter account Tuesday night.

The 68-year-old St. Albans Community Living Center has been long overdue for renovations, according to veterans groups. Initially the federal government chose St. Albans Village LLC as its preferred developer for the project, but supporters criticized the VA after the developer said it was planning to build a school and jazz center on the land.

The VA withdrew its plans following the passage of the House version of the bill in June.

Meeks said he is aiming to add an approbation to the Senate version of the bill that would call for the VA to set aside money for the planning of a new medical facility on the St. Albans campus.

“We want to make sure now the next step is to build a full-service hospital for our veterans,” the congressman said.

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