INTRODUCTION OF THE "SOUTHERN NEW JERSEY VETERANS COMPREHENSIVE HEALTH CARE ACT"-HON. FRANK A. LoBIONDO (Extensions of Remarks - June 24, 2005)
HON. FRANK A. LoBIONDO
OF NEW JERSEY
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Thursday, June 23, 2005
Mr. LOBIONDO. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce the "Southern New Jersey Veterans Comprehensive Health Care Act". I am proud to have Representatives JIM SAXTON, CHRIS SMITH, and ROB ANDREWS join me as original cosponsors of this legislation. My colleagues and I all share a serious concern that South Jersey veterans are not currently having their health care needs adequately served by the Veterans' Administration. In order to increase health care accessibility in our area, this bill directs the Secretary of the Department of Veterans' Affairs to expand the capability of the VA to provide for the medical care needs of vets in Southern New Jersey.
The issue of improved access to health services from the Department of Veterans' Affairs, is especially important with the growing number of veterans in Southern New Jersey. Many of our older veterans from World War II and other conflicts are in need of more frequent health care services and inpatient care. As a result of the continued fight in the Global War on Terror, there will be many new veterans in our area who need care in the coming years, as over 62 percent of the New Jersey National Guard is currently deployed, deploying, or has been deployed in support of the Global War on Terror. This percentage of Reserve Component forces from our State who will be eligible for veterans' status is growing rapidly.
As it relates to Southern New Jersey, I have serious reservations about the VA's access model for health care access, which currently says that adequate access is being provided if a veteran lives within 60 to 90 mile radius of a VA Medical Center. Today, despite falling within the VA's access model, veterans residing in Southern New Jersey must often travel several hours away, either to the neighboring states of Pennsylvania or Delaware, or to Northern New Jersey, in order to receive inpatient medical care and some outpatient services.
Although transportation is provided to the Wilmington, DE facility via a new handicapped-accessible van, these veterans often face a ten-hour round trip. Veterans riding a van from Southern New Jersey must board the van early in the morning, making several stops before reaching the VA facility, stay all day until each veteran has completed their appointment and then return home. This means that a veteran with a 4 p.m. appointment boards the bus at 8 a.m. and waits at the facility until 4 or 5 p.m. And, the veteran whose appointment is at 9 a.m. must wait to return home until the last appointment is completed, resulting in a 10 hour day of travel.
Of equal concern is that veterans have told me they simply do not use the services at these three facilities because of the transportation hardship. Southern New Jersey is a prime example of suppressed demand for VA health care.
The Southern New Jersey Veterans Comprehensive Health Care Act gives an overview of the VA health care access situation veterans are facing Southern New Jersey and proposes a choice of two workable solutions to this growing problem. The bill cites that the current and future health care needs of South Jersey veterans are not being met by the VA, travel times to existing VA facilities in Philadelphia and Wilmington may fall within VA's access parameters, but that these parameters fail to take into account that the area is rural, and that routes to the two VAMCs are congested, leading to a "suppressed demand" for care. It also outlines that the number of vets in the area is increasing as more retire in the area and new vets come back from being deployed in support of the War on Terrorism. States that 62 percent of the NJ Guard will have been deployed on active duty by the end of 2004.
This bill defines "Southern New Jersey" as the counties of: Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Salem, Gloucester, Camden, Burlington, and Ocean and requires the VA Secretary to determine and notify Congress no later than March 15, 2006 as to how he will provide for the full service health care needs of South Jersey vets.
The Secretary of the Department of Veterans' Affairs is given two options for providing this improved access to health care for veterans in Southern New Jersey. The Secretary is given the choice of establishing a public-private partnership between the VA and an existing hospital (private-sector entity) in South Jersey-a "VA Wing", or construction of a full-service, 100 bed VA Medical Center (VAMC). If the VAMC option is chosen, the bill authorizes $120 M for the construction of the facility.
I am proud to introduce the Southern New Jersey Comprehensive Health Care Act with my New Jersey colleagues Congressman SAXTON, Congressman ANDREWS, and Congressman SMITH. Our nation's veterans answered the call without question when our country needed them, and it is our duty to provide quality, convenient health care for them when they need it. This issue is a top priority for me and I will continue to fight to ensure that all veterans have adequate access to the health care they have earned and deserve.