Lack of a Veterans Affairs hospital in the region has forced veterans in South Jersey to travel north or out of state to receive healthcare.  A pilot program that state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, continues pushing for would allow veterans to stay locally for treatment.

Gov. Chris Christie listens to a question during a town hall meeting Tuesday in Somerville. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Gov. Chris Christie listens to a question during a town hall meeting in Somerville. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

"This situation has been going on for far too long," said Van Drew. "Our veterans are every bit as worthy, every bit as deserving, every bit as loyal and heroic in South Jersey as they are anywhere else."

Van Drew pointed out that VA clinics don't always provide the care a veterans needs.

"There are some clinics in the vicinity, but the bottom line is often they have to go to Wilmington, Delaware, or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, or in the case of Ocean County, all the way up to East Orange to get the needed healthcare that they deserve," said Van Drew.

Under the proposed pilot program in South Jersey, veterans in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties would be issued a card to enable them to seek care from doctors, hospitals and community health clinics in that area if the care they need isn't provided through other means.

In addition to giving veterans care closer to home, Van Drew pointed out another advantage of the pilot program.

"This would enhance the economy because there would be growth in the medical industry, the hospitals would do better, community doctors would do better, community health clinics would do better, and it would be very positive in that way as well," he said.

Despite Van Drew touting the pilot program as something that could offer veterans in South Jersey better and expanded healthcare and provide less cost to the federal government, he said the Veteran's Administration repeatedly fights the resolution and hasn't been supportive of it.

"I believe they're protecting their own bureaucracy rather than doing what is right for our veterans, and we're going to keep pushing no matter how long it takes."

Van Drew explained the argument has been that the VA already has established clinics with expanded hours.

But Van Drew says some veterans, including those who might be very sick and elderly, are forced to carpool and be at the mercy of other riders who also have to complete their appointments.

"Often they're literally urinating in jugs and bottles along the way in the van. That is not the way to treat our best and our most loyal and our bravest," said Van Drew. "We can do better than that as Americans, as New Jerseyans."