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Legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Matthew W. Milam to establish a task force to study and make recommendations on how best to build and operate a veterans’ health care facility in southern New Jersey was advanced Thursday by an Assembly panel.

The bill (A-845) would create an 18-member task force to devise a plan for the veterans hospital.

“Our veterans deserve our best, and forcing our southern New Jersey veterans to travel long distances for health care is not acceptable,” Milam said. “We need to do better, and this task force will help us determine the best way possible to ensure veterans in southern New Jersey get the best health care possible.”

Southern New Jersey lacks a federal Department of Veterans Affairs inpatient veterans medical center, forcing veterans needing inpatient care to travel to veterans’ hospitals in northern New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware.

The VA has small clinics in Ventnor, Cape May and Vineland, but they only perform some outpatient medical services and are often overwhelmed by a large number of veterans seeking care.

“These men and women fought to protect our freedom, and deserve a reasonably accessible hospital that can meet their often specialized health care needs,” Milam said. “Forcing them to drive long distances for health care is, quite simply, wrong. We need to fix this.”

This bill establishes the New Jersey Veterans’ Hospital Task Force to study, evaluate and make recommendations related to the construction and operation of a veterans’ health care facility in southern New Jersey.

The task force would be comprised of 18 members as follows:

· The Adjutant General of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services;

· Two members of the Senate appointed by the President of the Senate, and two members of the General Assembly appointed by the Speaker of the General Assembly;

· Twelve public members, to be appointed as follows:

· Two members appointed by the Governor – upon the recommendation of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association – who are veterans and active participants in the business community in southern New Jersey;

· Eight prominent veterans from throughout the state appointed by the Governor; and

· Two members appointed by the Governor who are subject matter experts from the NJ Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs.

It will be the duty of the task force to:

· Estimate the capital, operational and administrative expenses associated with establishing a new veterans’ health care facility in southern New Jersey, or contracting with an existing health care facility to provide medical services to veterans;

· Obtain and review statistical data on the number of veterans residing in Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Ocean and Salem counties and the number of veterans receiving medical services at hospitals within those counties in the past five years to determine a central location for a veterans’ health care facility;

· Determine the size and staffing levels necessary for a veterans’ health care facility to provide a full range of primary care and medical and surgical subspecialty care to eligible veterans;

· Review various methods of financing a veterans’ health care facility through public, private and public-private partnership financing systems; and

· Investigate opportunities for the state to enter into collaborative agreements with the federal government to ensure the most efficient use of funds and resources related to the operation of a veterans’ health care facility.

The task force is to report to the governor and the Legislature no later than 12 months after its initial meeting.

The bill was released by the Assembly Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee and now goes to the Assembly Speaker, who decides if and when to post it for a vote.