Panel Would Develop Recommendations for Expanding Veterans’ Health Care Services in South Jersey
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May/Cumberland/Atlantic) that would create a task force to study and develop recommendations for expanding veterans’ health care services in southern New Jersey today received final approval in the Senate, and now heads to the desk of Governor Christie.
Earlier this year, Van Drew hosted a hearing on the bill (S-1189) at the Somers Point VFW Post 2189 in Atlantic County, where dozens of veterans told stories of having to travel for more than an hour, sometimes taking day-long trips, to get to veterans hospitals for care.
“Veterans in our region should not be forced to travel hours to North Jersey or across state lines to Delaware or Pennsylvania to get basic health care,” said Senator Van Drew. “They deserve reasonable access to health care services, just as much as veterans in Wilmington, Philadelphia and North Jersey.”
There is no federal Department of Veterans Affairs inpatient veterans’ medical center in southern New Jersey. While the VA has established small clinics in Ventnor, Cape May and Vineland, they are only equipped to perform certain types of outpatient medical services, and often are overwhelmed by the large number of veterans seeking care. As a result, veterans are often forced to travel long distances for their health care needs.
Past calls for a VA hospital in southern New Jersey have been rejected by federal officials who cite a lack of need in the region. Senator Van Drew has noted, however, that information on which the VA has based its decision is flawed. VA statistics, for example, do not include Ocean County – where the largest numbers of New Jersey veterans reside – in the count of southern New Jersey.
“With veterans and government representatives working together, this task force would provide a true picture of the need for care in the region and lay out recommendations for the best way to meet it,” said Senator Van Drew. “Armed with this information, it is my hope that we can finally persuade the federal government to expand services and show our veterans the respect they have earned.”
The “New Jersey Veterans’ Hospital Task Force” created under the bill would study and develop recommendations for constructing and operating a veterans health care facility in southern New Jersey, or for contracting with an existing health care facility to provide services to veterans.
Members of the task force would include prominent veteran leaders from across the State of New Jersey; experts from the New Jersey Hospital Association and veterans healthcare services from the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs; and representatives of state government and the Legislature. The 18-member panel would be required to submit its recommendations to the Governor and Legislature within a year of its initial meeting.
The bill passed the Assembly in November by a vote of 79-0. It cleared the Senate by a vote of 37-0. It now heads to the Governor.