Van Drew Measure Urging Federal VA To Support Improved Healthcare Access For South Jersey Military Veterans Advances

Calls For Pilot Program Allowing Treatment At Local Hospitals

TRENTON – A measure sponsored by Senator Jeff Van Drew urging federal officials to support recommendations made by a legislative task force to expand health care access for military veterans living in South Jersey was approved today by a Senate Committee.

“Veterans in South Jersey are forced to travel hours, either to North Jersey, Pennsylvania or Delaware, for treatment at a VA facility. For these individuals, many who are older and are suffering with numerous health problems, the travel is an unnecessary and harmful burden,” said Senator Van Drew (D-Cape May/Cumberland/Atlantic). “The task force put forward a commonsense plan that will allow veterans to obtain health care services at local hospitals in the region using their VA credentials, and a number of facilities have already expressed an interest in taking part. We are urging the VA to support our recommendations so that military veterans in our area are provided the health services they need and deserve.”

The Senate Concurrent resolution (SCR-142) urges the federal Department of Veterans Affairs to support the 10 recommendations of the New Jersey Veterans Hospital Task Force, which studied the challenges for veterans in South Jersey in accessing care. Following a year of hearings and study on the lack of health care access available to area veterans, the 18-member panel put forward a plan. The chief recommendation calls for a pilot program to give area veterans access to local medical facilities. Among the facilities which have expressed an interest in the program are Cape May Regional Medical Center, the Virtua System, Atlanticare, Shore Memorial Hospital, Inspira Health Network, the Meridian Health Care System and the Bacharach Institute for Rehabilitation.

Currently, no federal Department of Veterans Affairs inpatient veterans’ medical center exists in southern New Jersey. The VA has established small clinics in Northfield, Cape May and Vineland, however, 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, including to East Orange, Wilmington, Delaware, or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“These are American heroes who have risked their lives to protect the freedoms that we enjoy every day in this country. It is our obligation to provide them with the accessible, high-quality care that they earned as members of our Armed Forces,” said Senator Van Drew, who sponsored the legislation creating the task force and served as co-chair. “I look forward to the entire Legislature voting on this plan and to submitting it to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The men and women who have fought for this country, and put their lives on the line for all of us, deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and that means providing them with quality care. If we can provide that right in their communities, we absolutely should.”

The resolution calls on the Veterans Administration to support the following recommendations:

• Recognize that the deficiencies in the healthcare needs of veterans living in southern New Jersey is a serious problem that must be addressed as soon as possible;

• Assuming that the construction of a new veterans healthcare facility in southern New Jersey is not feasible, create a pilot program to give area veterans greater access to local medical centers, including Cape May Regional Medical Center, the Virtua System, Atlanticare, Shore Memorial Hospital, Inspira Health Network, the Meridian Health Care System, the Bacharach Institute for Rehabilitation, to name just a few of the healthcare facilities that are interested in participating in the program;

• Recognize that such a pilot program, administered by the department, would save money and greatly enhance healthcare opportunities for all veterans living in southern New Jersey;

• Move the approximately 44,600 veterans who live in Ocean County into VISN 4 from their current VISN, so that veterans from that county, which has the greatest number of veterans in the State, would no longer need to travel as much as four to six hours round trip to get to East Orange, Wilmington or Philadelphia for healthcare services;

• Determine what services are available at each community based outpatient clinic and increase communication among all community based outpatient clinics;

• Provide additional, readily-accessible, information about the healthcare services, outreach services and varied information sources that are available currently to veterans living in southern New Jersey;

• Focus greater attention on the healthcare needs of women veterans;

• Provide additional staffing to all community based outpatient clinics where needed and appropriate, including the Northfield Veterans Clinic, the Cape May VA Outpatient Clinic and the Vineland Veterans Clinic, which are admirable facilities that lack sufficient personnel to provide the essential services and address adequately the needs of local veterans;

• Establish a continuing veterans oversight committee for the State, composed of three individuals, one each from North, Central and Southern New Jersey, that would be a bridge between the State and the federal government, and that would also be a liaison to each major civilian healthcare facility that serves veterans in the State;

• Provide, in particular, a liaison for each major civilian healthcare facility in the southern New Jersey area to assist those veterans who use the fee-based services offered at such facilities, and to assist the hospitals to interact successfully with the Department of Veterans Affairs on behalf of veterans living in southern New Jersey.

The task force was comprised of 18 members, including the Adjutant General of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, the Commissioner of the Department of Health and Senior Services, two members of the New Jersey Senate, two members of the New Jersey General Assembly, and 12 members of the public who were prominent veterans leaders from across the State or experts in healthcare issues effecting veterans.

The Senate Military and Veterans Affairs Committee approved the resolution by a vote of 4-0. Upon approval in both houses, duly authenticated copies of the resolution, signed by the Speaker of the General Assembly and the President of the Senate and attested by the Clerk of the General Assembly and the Secretary of the Senate, would be transmitted to the Secretary of the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.