By Howard Koplowitz
Veterans groups, elected officials, civic organizations and the Jamaica NAACP marched around the perimeter of the St. Albans Veterans Administration Hospital Saturday to protest plans to develop private housing or other facilities on a portion of the hospital land.
“We’re against the private development of lands [that should be] for our vets,” said Jamaica NAACP President Leroy Gadsden shortly before the protest was underway at around 11 a.m. Saturday.
Gadsden noted that the plans have not yet been approved.
“We haven’t seen what’s going to happen yet. This [land] should be for veterans, not private developers,” he said.
The Rev. Edwin Reed, whose firm, St. Albans Village, has been named the preferred developer for the site by the U.S. Veterans Administration, said the redevelopment includes a new state-of-the-art veterans hospital along with private housing and a jazz plaza.
But opponents of the proposal say all land within the hospital campus should be designated for veterans.
Pat Toro, president of the Queens chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, said the Veterans Administration “has been lying to us for years” by claiming statistics show their is no need for a VA hospital in Queens.
But Toro said Queens has 37 percent more veterans living there than in any other borough.
“They’ve been lying to us all along and we want a hospital,” he said.
A parade of marchers walking along the perimeter of the building chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the VA project’s gotta go!” as some protesters handed out literature to nearby drivers and pedestrians.
State Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans) said he supported the veterans.
“We need a full-service hospital. Veterans in this city and in this country have served this country well,” he said. “They deserve a full-service hospital. [The VA] shouldn’t be giving veterans’ property to private developers.”
Ruben Wills, former chief of staff to state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) and a candidate in the special election to fill recently deceased City Councilman Tom White’s seat, said he opposed the plans.
“I think it’s really a disgrace that we would turn on the veterans,” he said.
State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), who said he had to go to the VA hospital for a physical before he entered the military, said he hoped the protest will change the mind of the Veterans Administration.
“We have to keep hammering away,” he said.
Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), a member of the Senate Veterans Committee, said the plans were disrespectful to the borough’s veterans.
“You give them that respect by funding this hospital as it should be funded,” he said. “This is a major issue for our veterans.”
Huntley said she was confident that the protest would be persuasive enough to scuttle the plans.
“This is going to happen. We are going to get our full-service hospital,” she said. “There’s nothing like action on the streets.”
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4573.