There’s overwhelming support in South Jersey for a system that will allow the private sector to take over the hospitalization and outpatient treatment of Veterans.

That’s the consensus of Veterans who offered testimony during a public hearing Tuesday held by the Veteran’s Hospital Task Force held at the Little Egg Harbor Municipal Building.

One-by-one Veterans spoke about the mishandling, mismanagement and benign neglect on the part of the VA for their specific health issues, raising eyebrows and probably awareness on the dais.

It became clear that a single, brick-and-mortar building would be costly to buy, build, equip and staff, probably beyond the government’s means and desires. What emerged is a concept of a network of hospitals that could tend veterans’ health care. They view it as a way to add to dwindling patient numbers and broaden services and staff.

Doctor Steven Kolesk, the Vice President and Chief Operating Officer a Virtua Memorial Hospital in Mount Holly New Jersey sees utilizing the private sector as the best way to treat Veterans in Ocean and Burlington Counties, which he believes has the highest per capita number of Veteran’s in the country.

However, he says the proposal presents a number of obstacles. The first having to do with the communication of computer systems between the VA and private hospitals software and also the communication between medical staffers at the VA and private hospitals with regard to outpatient treatment. He doesn’t see these obstacles as insurmountable and says they’re slowly being ironed out .

John Dorrity, Director of Ocean County Veterans’ Services and a wounded Vet, told the panel that he’s been “prosecuting VA cases for his people for 32 years.” He sees the whole system as outdated and unwieldy, and lobbied for a plan similar to Medicare/Medicaid that could be used by any veteran, anywhere, instead of several specific buildings.

Dorrity says he’d like to see the VA hospitals close altogether. “I’m talking about fully utilizing the private sector, that’s what I’m talking about, but it will never happen unless more people get off this gravy train.”

Michel Gianquinta, a female war vet from Barnegat, says she’s relieved that someone is trying to cut through bureaucracy that keeps vets glued to faraway hospitals. During her testimony, she demands that whatever health care plan emerges pay specific attention to women’s health issues. She says this is one area where a woman can’t be “one of the guys.” he sees a dearth of qualified and sensitive gynecologists, for example, and she’s seen too many compromising and embarrassing situations to leave the comment unspoken.

“She says the VA needs to know that there may be health clinics around but they need good doctors, not a Nurse Practioner because a Nurse practictioner can’t give you everything that you need or a Physicians Assistant.” She says “a doctor is needed especially when it comes to specialized care such as oncology, breast cancer, GYN these things are very very important.”

Gianquinta says “they must be aware that there are women out their who have lost limbs and they shouldn’t be put into a prostetic room and say ‘okay lets try this on’ when there are men around there and they’re looking at all this.”

Joe Bivona of Little Egg Harbor sees a great deal of value in being able to visit any nearby hospital, even perhaps doctors he knows, rather than drive to another spot that probably would still take a lot of time. No one, in the seats or on the stand, argued the logic of this approach.

Task Force Member, 9th District (R) Assemblywoman DiAnne Gove says that whatever presents itself as the most efficient, effective and economical way to deliver healthcare to deserving vets is the direction that must be taken, and quickly.

Panel member 9th District (R) State Senator Chris Connors sees a twofold dragon to battle in the federal government: going in with a favorable targeted dollar amount, and convincing the VA to think outside the box. But if they succeed, he says, they may have created a template that any region in the country could follow.

The 15-member bi-partisan task force is charged with studying, evaluating and making recommendations related to the construction and operation of a veterans’ health care facility in south Jersey. Chris Connors says they plan to hold two more public hearings and present their findings at the end of the year.

WOBM News Bureau Chief Tom Mongelli assisted with this news story