HOLT & PALLONE SAY PENTAGON SHOULD WORK WITH V.A. TO ENSURE VETERANS CLINIC STAYS AT
U.S. Reps. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Defense late yesterday voicing concern that the Pentagon seems unwilling to work with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to keep the Fort Monmouth Veteran Community Outpatient Clinic on Fort Monmouth land after the Fort is closed in 2011.
The two New Jersey lawmakers believe the Pentagon wants to move the veterans' clinic off Fort Monmouth land so that it can sell the land to a private owner at a higher price. In a letter today to Joseph W. Whitaker, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations and Housing, Holt and Pallone said that the VA should be allowed to purchase the clinic without having to out-spend higher bidders.
"We strongly believe that the Department of Veterans Affairs should have the opportunity to acquire the clinic from the Pentagon without out-spending the highest bidder," Holt and Pallone wrote in their letter to Whitaker. "This would enable the clinic to continue operating at Fort Monmouth, and the Pentagon would still realize sizeable income from the conveyance of other portions of Fort Monmouth's property. In making decisions pertaining to Fort Monmouth's future, considerations such as the care and well-being of the veterans served by the base, as well as the economic well-being of the community in which it sits, must be taken into account by the Pentagon."
Holt and Pallone also voiced concern over mixed messages that are coming out of both agencies. They pointed to recent press reports in which Fort Monmouth commander Col. Ricki Sullivan stated that the VA would move its clinic off the base to a new location in Monmouth County when Fort Monmouth is closed. The same day, however, a spokesperson for the VA in New Jersey said that the VA would like the clinic to remain at Fort Monmouth even after the base closes.
"There are two problems with these facts," Holt and Pallone continued in their letter to Whitaker. "First, these mixed messages show that the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) aren't working together to determine how best to provide for New Jersey's veterans once Fort Monmouth closes. This is very troubling as such discussions should have occurred as soon as the BRAC Commission rendered its decision in August of last year.
"The second problem is that these facts provide more evidence that the Department of Defense's priority for base closure remains squeezing every possible dollar out of the land at Fort Monmouth," the two lawmakers continued. "Such an approach will have deleterious consequences for the people of New Jersey in general, and for New Jersey's veterans in particular. As you may know, more than 2,500 veterans utilize the health care services provided at the VA facility at Fort Monmouth. Ensuring that these men and women have access to the care they earned through their service should be as high priority for the DoD and VA as it is to us."
Today's letter is the second the two lawmakers have sent to Deputy Secretary Whitaker in as many weeks. Last week, Holt and Pallone urged the Pentagon to prioritize job creation and economic development when it was making a final decision on the conveyance of Fort Monmouth land.