Calls For Pilot Program Allowing Treatment At Local Hospitals, Recommendations Now Go To Federal VA
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 received final approval today in the Senate. The central proposal calls for allowing veterans to receive government-sponsored care at local hospitals. With today’s vote, the recommendations will be sent to the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.
“For too long, veterans in South Jersey have been forced to travel hours to North Jersey, Pennsylvania or Delaware, for treatment at a VA facility. For individuals who are older and are suffering with numerous health problems, the travel can take an incredible toll on their health,” said Senator Van Drew (D-Cape May/Cumberland/Atlantic). “These are commonsense reforms that will allow veterans to access health care services at local hospitals in the region using their VA credentials, a program that a number of facilities have already expressed interest in participating. We are urging the VA to support our recommendations so that military veterans in our area are provided the health services they 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 MayRegionalMedicalCenter, the Virtua System, Atlanticare, ShoreMemorialHospital, Inspira Health Network, the Meridian Health Care System, Deborah Heart and LungCenter 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 life and limb so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we do each day. We owe it to them to provide the top-quality health care that they were promised and that they earned,” said Senator Van Drew, who sponsored the legislation creating the task force and served as co-chair. “Our plan has now been approved by the Legislature and will be submitted to the Department of Veterans Affairs. We are hopeful the VA will partner with us on this innovative program. 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 decent 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 Assembly approved the bill unanimously in June. The Senate approved it 39-0. 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, will be transmitted to the Secretary of the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.