Legislators Call for Pilot Program in South Jersey
TRENTON – Responding to reports of additional problems within the federal Department of Veterans Affairs hospital system, Senator Jeff Van Drew and Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak said the VA is failing our nation’s veterans and called for the VA to approve a pilot program in South Jersey to allow veterans to receive health care at local hospitals.
The pilot plan, developed by a task force created by legislation Van Drew sponsored, was endorsed by the Legislature last year and sent to the secretary of the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. In addition, in response to problems uncovered within the VA – including hospitals falsifying data to conceal long wait times – Congress last year passed and President Obama signed legislation to create a similar program nationwide. However, the majority of South Jersey veterans are not eligible.
“The latest reports of problems within the VA system are shocking and all of us should be appalled by the way our nation’s veterans are being treated. These men and women fought for our country and deserve the best care we can offer. Instead, they have encountered unprecedented wait times that have left them suffering with ailments and injuries, and without the vital health care they need. Now, we’ve learned the VA doesn’t even know how many veterans died waiting to get into a VA facility,” said Senator Van Drew. “Enough is enough. The VA is a national disgrace. We have to take action for those living in our communities who have long struggled to access quality health care. Hospitals across South Jersey are eager to welcome veterans into their facilities. We are urging the VA to grant us approval to move forward.”
“As someone who received care at the VA, I am truly saddened that many of my fellow veterans are not able to get the care they desperately need,” said Assemblyman Andrzejczak. “The federal system is failing too many of our veterans. We cannot stand by as more of these brave men and women are deprived of proper care and as more problems are uncovered within the system. This is a crisis. We have presented a solution for our area that has been endorsed by the state legislature and mirrored at the federal level. The VA must allow us to put this plan into action.”
Most local veterans do not meet requirements for the national program due to the location of VA clinics in the area. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) has introduced a bill to broaden eligibility and allow veterans to seek care at local hospitals regardless of wait-times for an appointment and their distance from a VA. Van Drew and Andrzejczak (both D-Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic) said they support the legislation but believe it will take time to get through Congress. They are urging the VA to immediately sign off on the pilot program for the South Jersey region which will allow veterans to use a VA-issued card to access care from community doctors and hospitals. Among the hospitals in South Jersey that have supported the pilot idea and expressed interest in participating are: Inspira Health Network, Atlanticare, the Meridian Health Care System, Cape May Regional Medical Center, the Virtua System, Shore Memorial Hospital, Deborah Heart and Lung Center and the Bacharach Institute for Rehabilitation.
“Since there is no VA hospital in our region, area veterans have had to trek hours to get to a VA facility in North Jersey, Philadelphia or Delaware for care. Asking them to make this burdensome trip to a hospital operating within a system that is plagued by problems is unacceptable,” added Van Drew. “The pilot would allow veterans to get great care at local hospitals that want to serve their needs. In doing so, it would strengthen our system locally while at the same time save the VA money.”
“The VA must get its house in order for our veterans nationwide,” said Andrzejczak. “However, we need to provide adequate and accessible care for the men and women in South Jersey now. This pilot is the way to do it. We are going to continue to advocate for this plan regardless of how long it takes to advance it. We will not rest until those who fought for our country get the treatment and respect they are owed.”
The legislators also sent letters today to the Secretary of the Federal Department of Veterans Affairs urging approval of the pilot, and to Governor Christie requesting any help his office can provide in their effort to get the program approved.