By Gina Martinez
Queens veterans are being left in the cold.
The Veterans of Foreign Affairs Post 3427 in Flushing held a news conference Monday in a freezing hall after the gas was cut off due to the heavy fines its members could not afford to pay.
According to the group, their troubles with the city Department of Buildings began after they installed an energy-efficient water heater in 2015. Since then the post has racked up over $13,000 in fines for various violations. The veterans say each time they tried to correct a violation, they were met with more fines.
The three violations came on July 21, 2015. The first fine was $8,162.19. According to the DOB, it was for installation of gas hot water heater without a work permit. The second fine for $5,101.37 was for gas being supplied without inspector certification by the DOB. The third violation was for $203.116, According to the DOB, it was for failure to maintain the building code covering the installation of plumbing materials.
Members of the post contend the fining is excessive, while the city bureaucracy and lack of communication with local elected officials are threatening to shut down their 136-06 Horace Harding Expressway post.
Marvin Jeffcoat, Sergeant First Class, U.S Army Retired, said the Flushing post was being fined unfairly and the veterans are being ignored.
“We demand justice for this post from our local politicians,” he said inside the chilly building. “Not only is this post the home to veterans in this neighborhood, it’s also the location where we hold our annual legislative breakfast where we try to convey our needs to unsympathetic and uncaring politicians who have done nothing to ameliorate the situation for over two years. Our brothers and sisters are being fined out of existence because they installed an energy-efficient hot water heater so they wouldn’t have to run the boiler in the summertime.”
Despite the lack of help, one elected official has stepped up. According to James McClelland, an adviser to the post, on the DOB’s last inspection a representative from Congresswoman Grace Meng’s (D- Flushing) office was on hand and prevented the post from receiving even more fines.
“Meng’s office has been very helpful,” he said. “Veterans are annoyed that no one else’s office has helped out. Without her rep the last time DOB came back we would have had an additional violation. We think there needs to be a more concerted effort from city officials.”
Meng’s office said it has spoken to the Department of Buildings on the veterans’ behalf and urged the agency to resolve the matter with the VFW Post. Meng is also working on setting up a meeting with DOB and the VFW Post.
Jeffcoat also called on other local lawmakers to help eliminate the onerous fines.
“There is a lawless war being perpetrated against the veterans of New York City and this post being fined out of existence is evidence of that war,” he said. “These fines need to go away today. They’re wrong, they shouldn’t have been done in the first place. We demand that politicians put their collective minds together and come up with a way to tell the Department of Buildings no more, cease fire, knock it off, eliminate these fines.”
Commander Raymond Ramos said he post is out of money and cannot afford to pay off the $13,000 in fines. Ramos said an inspector from the DOB came three weeks ago to inspect the boiler and instead of helping the veterans, they were fined even more. The boiler was turned off due to unsafe code violations.
“What happened to us shouldn’t happen to any other post,” Ramos said. “We’re not saying that things cannot be corrected, we’re willing, but we need someone to come in and sit with us and have dialogue and tell us the things that needed to be corrected. You can’t put the cart before the horse, come in and fine us to the extent that we’re treated like a business, because we’re not an everyday business.”
Ramos said the news conference was a last resort and he hoped the elected officials would step up and save the post from being shut down.
“We fought for our country, we went overseas, we want to have the same mentality and do the same thing for the citizens in the community of Queens,” he said. “We volunteer, we go out on walks and do services for homeless vets, that’s what this place is all about and if you shut us down, we can’t be effective.”
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart