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VA administrators, LI congressmen meet on closed homeless shelter

Reps. Lee Zeldin and Thomas Suozzi said they want to expedite reopening the shelter, which has been closed for about a year because of a failed heating system.

The Northport VA Medical Center, seen on Tuesday.

The Northport VA Medical Center, seen on Tuesday. Photo Credit: James Carbone

Two members of Long Island’s congressional delegation met Tuesday with administrators of the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center for an update on a closed homeless shelter on the hospital’s campus.

Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) said they want to expedite reopening the shelter, which has been closed for about a year because of a failed heating system. The shelter had been slated to reopen in September, but failed to meet building codes. Stricter federal codes went into effect when the building closed, Northport officials said.

Acting Associate Director Dave Evangelista assured the legislators that the Northport center is moving as quickly as possible to reopen the shelter.

"It's moving faster than our original impression," Suozzi said. "But from an outside person, it feels like a glacial pace."

Suozzi and Zeldin said Evangelista told them that repairs to a fire sprinkler system would be upgraded by Northport's maintenance crew rather than a contractor, saving time.

After the meeting, the congressmen also spoke about the VA Mission Act, a new federal law that expands private-sector medical care for veterans.

President Donald Trump pushed for the measure, which also had the support of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Critics of some of the law's provisions, including many Democrats, warned the legislation could weaken VA health care by shifting dollars to the private sector.

Zeldin said the law is particularly helpful to East End veterans, who face hourslong drives to the Northport campus.

“For a veteran out near Montauk, that can be totally unrealistic,” Zeldin said before the meeting.

The medical center’s interim director, Cathy Cruise, was visiting some of the VA's satellite clinics on Long Island, and was not present for the meeting. A Northport spokesman attributed her absence to an error made by a scheduler.

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