EXPANDING ACUTE HEALTH CARE SERVICES TO SOUTH JERSEY VETERANS
January 20, 2006
After more than five years of advocating for local veterans healthcare services, I was pleased to recently announce the newly-formed partnership between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Kessler Memorial Hospital in Hammonton to bring acute inpatient and outpatient healthcare services to eligible veterans in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Salem, Gloucester, Camden, Burlington, and Ocean counties.
As our local veterans know, prior to this partnership, veterans living in Southern New Jersey had to travel to VA hospitals in Philadelphia, PA or Wilmington, DE to receive specialized and acute inpatient healthcare services not available at local VA clinics in Cape May, Sewell, Ventnor or Vineland. Under the arrangement, however, eligible South Jersey veterans enrolled in the VA healthcare system will soon be able to go to Kessler Memorial Hospital for acute inpatient and outpatient care services including: emergency care and stabilization, select gastroenterology procedures; dermatology; podiatry; and physical therapy. Additional services as authorized by the VA may also become available to South Jersey Veterans as the demand increases.
Since 2000, I have aggressively pursued all plausible options to bring quality VA healthcare services to South Jersey, including bringing then-VA Secretary Anthony Principi to a public forum in Atlantic County. As part of a multi-pronged approach, I co-sponsored legislation in 2003 and 2005 that would have required the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to develop a plan to establish an inpatient VA facility in Southern New Jersey, including the choice of establishing a public-private partnership between the VA and an existing hospital in the area. After meeting with Mike Gonnella, CEO and President of Kessler Memorial Hospital, I approached VA Secretary James Nicholson with the proposal for providing acute inpatient and outpatient services for veterans at the Southern New Jersey hospital. Now, that public-private partnership is a reality.
While it will take an estimated six to eight weeks until the acute inpatient and outpatient services are available at Kessler Memorial Hospital, South Jersey veterans can begin to determine their eligibility and enroll in the VA healthcare system now. A survey by the VA in 2005 determined that only 21 percent of Atlantic County veterans who are eligible are enrolled in the VA healthcare system. In Salem County, enrollment drops to only 16.5 percent. Cape May County - at just over 26 percent - has the highest enrollment of eligible veterans in the entire 2nd Congressional district.
Often deterred by the long drive to Wilmington or Philadelphia for VA healthcare services, eligible South Jersey veterans are choosing not to enroll in the VA system. Now, with acute inpatient and outpatient services to be offered at Kessler Memorial Hospital in Hammonton - geographically accessible to communities across Southern New Jersey - I strongly encourage eligible area veterans to take advantage of the quality healthcare available by the VA by calling 1-877-222-VETS or online at www.va.gov. Additionally, to assist South Jersey veterans in determining their eligibility and enrolling in the VA healthcare system, I will be hosting an enrollment seminar on Monday, February 13th from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Home in Vineland.
While I believe we can never fully repay our veterans for all their service, it is our obligation to make sure that they get the benefits they have earned and deserve. I will continue to work to increase access to VA healthcare services for South Jersey veterans. They answered the call of their country when they were needed, and now it is our duty to meet their needs by providing quality, convenient health care.