Legislation passes encouraging VA to allow veterans access to local medical care

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Sen. Christopher Connors Sen. Christopher Connors

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by 9th District Legislators Sen. Christopher J. Connors and Assembly members Brian E. Rumpf and DiAnne C. Gove that contains recommendations issued by the Veterans’ Hospital Task Force for a comprehensive plan for expanding health care access for military veterans living in the southern part of the state has passed the state Senate.

The measure passed the Assembly last June.

The 9th District delegation sponsored the law that originally established the task force.  Subsequently, Connors and Gove were named to the task force by Gov. Chris Christie.   The bipartisan-supported concurrent resolution urges the federal Department of Veterans Affairs to take appropriate action to expand health care access for military veterans living in southern New Jersey. 

Connors, Rumpf and Gove issued the following statement following the Senate’s action on this veterans’ initiative:

“Testimony provided during the task force’s hearings demonstrated that there is a compelling need to expand health care options for veterans living in the southern end of the state to meet their medical needs and raise their quality of life.  Under the current system many veterans living in the area endure hardships, including having to travel unreasonable distances to VA facilities located in north Jersey or another state in order to receive medical treatment. 

“The construction of a veterans’ hospital in south Jersey was one of first options the task force considered.  After thorough deliberation, the portability of health insurance emerged as a more realistic and attractive option whereby veterans could receive medical care from local non-VA facilities, when it became readily apparent that building a new facility would be cost prohibitive.

“Unquestionably, the VA’s dedicated personnel have capably and compassionately delivered medical services to our veterans over the decades.  That stated, systemic changes are in order as was illustrated by the testimony provided by many south Jersey veterans that centered on the hardships created under the current system.

“Given its unequaled experience in treating veterans, the legislation supports the task force’s recommendation that the VA administer a pilot program which would be created to give area veterans greater access to local medical centers.  Our delegation strongly believes such an initiative would not only greatly enhance healthcare opportunities for all veterans living in southern New Jersey but would, very likely, prove to be a more cost effective system of providing high-quality care.”

The legislation urges the VA to support the following recommendations:

Recognize that the deficiencies in providing to the healthcare needs of veterans living in southern New Jersey are 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 AtlantiCare, the Bacharach Institute of Rehabilitation, Cape May Regional Medical Center, the Virtua System, Shore Medical Center, the Inspira Health Network, and the Meridian Health Care System, which represent just a few health care facilities that are interested in participating in the pilot 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 Ocean County into the Veterans’ Integrated Service Network 4 from its current VISN, so that veterans from that county, which has the greatest number of veterans in the state, would no longer need to travel to East Orange, Wilmington or Philadelphia for needed healthcare services.

Provide additional information about the healthcare services that are already available to veterans living in southern New Jersey.

Focus greater attention on the healthcare needs of women veterans.

And provide additional staffing to the Northfield Veterans’ Clinic, which is an admirable facility but lacks sufficient staff to address adequately the needs of local veterans.

After passing both houses of the Legislature, ACR-177/SCR-142 was filed with the Secretary of State and awaits the governor’s signature.

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