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TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Jeff Van Drew and Senator Jim Beach urging Congress to pass legislation allowing local veterans to receive hospital care and medical services at non-VA facilities was approved today by the Senate.

In 2014, President Obama signed a bill into law creating the “Veterans Choice Program,” allowing veterans who have waited more than 30 days for an appointment at a VA facility and who live more than 40 miles from a hospital or clinic to seek care at non-VA facilities, paid for by the VA.  However, because of the location of local VA clinics in South Jersey, veterans in the region do not meet the program requirements. Congressman Frank A. LoBiondo is sponsoring legislation (H.R.763) that would cover these veterans.

“No group is more aware of the challenges that veterans face in obtaining quality health care than those in South Jersey. Veterans in our region suffer extremely long travel times to VA hospitals for care, and at times the hurdles they encounter lead to them foregoing treatment altogether,” said Senator Van Drew. “Although a federal law is in place allowing some of our nation’s veterans to get care at local hospitals, those in our region still face barriers to adequate care. We are urging federal officials to take further action so that all veterans can get the health care they deserve.”

Currently, South Jersey veterans are forced to travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Wilmington, Delaware or northern New Jersey VA hospitals for care, which can mean several hours of travel for these men and women – many of whom are aging or suffering with debilitating conditions.

To address this issue, the New Jersey Veterans Hospital Task Force – co-chaired by Senator Van Drew – recommended the creation of a pilot program to allow area veterans to get care at local medical centers covered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. A number of local hospitals have shown interest in such a program, including Cape May Regional Medical Center, the Virtua System, Atlanticare, Shore Memorial Hospital, the Inspira Health Network, and the Meridian Health Care System, the Bacharach Institute for Rehabilitation, and the Deborah Heart and Lung Center. Senator Van Drew has continued to advocate for the program, which could be implemented through direct approval by the VA or federal legislation.

“The federal government has taken some positive action to help address the problems with health care access for veterans, but unfortunately those in our area cannot take advantage of the ‘Choice’ program,” said Senator Beach, chair of the Senate Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “That’s unfair and unacceptable. This legislation will allow us to speak with one voice as a state to request that federal officials go farther to address the needs of men and women in our region.”

The senators’ bill, SCR-23, was approved by a vote of 37-0; the Assembly approved it by a vote of 73-0 in September. Copies of the resolution, as filed with the Secretary of State, will be transmitted by the Clerk of the General Assembly or the Secretary of the Senate to the President and Vice President of the United States, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, the Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives, the President Pro Tempore of the United States Senate, the Minority Leader of the United States Senate, each Senator and Representative from New Jersey in the Congress of the United States, and the Secretary of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.