By Tom Mongelli
Teeming numbers of veterans using the Community Based Outpatient Clinic at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst -- and exponential distances they're forced to travel for in-depth care -- prompt a visit by US Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.
US Congressman Jon Runyan (R-3), whose district houses the installation and clinic, organized the tour to give Shinseki a clear idea of what medical aid is available for South Jersey veterans, whose numbers are pushing 60,000 in Ocean County alone.
Often, says Runyan, "it's access to actually get on the base that's a problem. Some of our veterans don't have that capability."
He's also anxious to illustrate the need for a VA medical center situated more closely to veterans who now are forced to set aside a day to trek to far-flung parts of the state -and out of state as well.
"When they need diagnostic exams, an x-ray then they're forced to travel to Philly or East Orange," says Runyan. "That's where we have to get the wheels turning to get another facility, maybe talk about some public-private partnerships that can get veterans the care they need."
Shore-base State Senator Chris Connors (R-9) is part of a committee studying the feasibility of placing a VA hospital in South Jersey. Their report is due at the end of 2012.
"A big part of that is being able to fund it," says Runyan, viewing private-sector participation as a way to not only cut startup costs, but ongoing ones. When access is limited, he says, veterans often wait "until they're really sick to do it. And in turn, that truly drives up the cost of it. And at the same time, adversely affects your health and affects your quality of life."
Runyan says he's discussed the situation over several breakfasts with Shinseki, which led to the Secretary's interest in getting a first-hand look.
The Congressman is just one of hundreds fighting for dwindling Defense Department resources in the budget proposed by President Obama.
He says he's developing unorthodox approaches to underscore the criticality of vets' health issues as well as that of the Joint Base.
Your next chance to speak directly to Congressman Jon Runyan will be May 2, during "Ask The Congressman" on 92.7 WOBM-FM and http://www.wobm.com. Send a question in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org.