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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Veterans could visit doctors or hospitals closer to home under federal proposal

Now this will delight many of my out-of-town VA acquaintances who must travel overnight distances to reach the Charleston VA.  I've been a longtime advocate for farming out veteran care to community hospitals. 

Much greater convenience for the vet and their families, and reduced expenses for the VA. The biggest hurdle as we see it is the government puts itself first to protect their monopolistic control over this one segment of Americans. Greed, personal careers and non-accountability trump performing up to what's needed in a competitive market. Mouthing care for the veteran is the routine practice while actual concern is not the result. Morality does not have a role.

Congressman Frank Lobiondo after he first unveiled his proposed new legislation to allow veterans to receive Healthcare at local non-VA Hospitals, on the steps of Nabb Leslie American Legion in Millville, Tuesday, May 27, 2014. (Staff Photo by Cindy Hepner/South Jersey Times)

By Alex Young | South Jersey Times
on February 16, 2015 at 12:00 PM

Congressman Frank LoBiondo (R-2) has reintroduced a bill that seeks to expand reforms enacted last year by allowing veterans to receive hospital care at non-Department of Veterans Affairs facilities, he announced in a statement recently.

LoBiondo said last year's reforms were a step in the right direction, but they didn't go far enough.

Under the 2014 VA reform law, veterans have to fall into certain categories to use a non-VA facility.

They either have to live more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility or outpatient clinic, or they have to show that they waited at least 30 days for an appointment at a VA facility.

When reached by phone Friday, LoBiondo said that because of the area's VA clinics, veterans in South Jersey don't qualify for the distance category even if they need to get a service that is only offered at one of the larger medical centers.

Joe Hannagan, veterans' service officer for Salem County, said many veterans in South Jersey -- especially those from Atlantic and Cape May counties -- face a tough road of reaching a VA hospital in Wilmington, Delaware, or Philadelphia.

"They have to be put on a bus and travel three hours," he said. "They stay at the hospital half a day and then go back home."

LoBiondo said there is a bus that starts in Atlantic County and heads through Vineland before going on to Wilmington.

"It's a new bus, but it's not the best option if you're an older vet and you've got a long ride on your hands," he said. "All of the vets on the bus have to have their appointments in Wilmington before you head home."

LoBiondo's new bill would eliminate the distance and wait criteria and allow veterans to go to the doctor or hospital of their choosing.

"South Jersey veterans must continue to travel out of state for complex medical care despite quality health care providers available locally," he said in the release. "My legislation would give South Jersey veterans that choice and complete the reforms Congress began last year."

The act would require the VA to establish pilot programs in each of the 23 Veterans Intergrated Service Networks and would provide eligible veterans with a unique identification card that would allow them to receive medical care at non-VA facilities at the VA's expense.

The legislation specifically states that LoBiondo's 2nd Congressional district will be one of the pilot-program areas.

State Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-1) said this legislation would be a huge benefit to the veterans in his district, as well as in other areas.

He said veterans in Ocean County have to travel all the way up to East Orange to get special treatments.

Van Drew also believes the act could give a nice boost to the local economy at local hospitals.

"The hospitals are so anxious," he said. "I meet with hospital representatives regularly, and they're really pleased about us heading in this area. There isn't a hospital yet that isn't anxious to be involved in some way.

"It's not going to be easy. ... We thank the congressman for his work and look forward to working with him in a bipartisan way. We'll continue to push no matter how long it takes."

LoBiondo believes this bill would be a big positive in fulfilling a promise to the nation's veterans.

"These are men and women who have put their lives on the line in service to the United States," he said. "They were promised that we would take care of them and their health care needs."

Alex Young may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @AlexYoungSJT. Find the South Jersey Times on Facebook.