President Trump has nominated an individual to serve as the 17th secretary of Veterans Affairs, including 10 secretaries and seven acting secretaries.
There are some politicians, both in Trenton and Washington, D.C., who believe that the private sector can do a better job of providing health care for veterans.
This view seems to ignore the extra expense of trying to serve veterans in the private sector, an expense that Congress will not be able or willing to fund. Turning over veterans’ health care to the for-profit health care business will eventually result in less veteran care due to cost.
Congress passed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act in 2014. A provision in the Choice Act established the Commission on Care, charged with examining how the VA health care system operated and what might be changed to better equip VA to deal with significantly changing demographics.
A dozen of the 15 commissioners agreed the VA provided good-to-excellent health care and had special expertise in treating veterans with some unique wounds of war.
And yet some individuals still call for the dismantling of the VA health care system. Chief among them are the Concerned Veterans of America, a conservative nonprofit organization advocating for veterans. It is not a veterans service organization like the American Legion, the VFW, the DAV or others. The CVA has lobbied for greater access to private health care for veterans.
Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) 4 and the Wilmington VA Medical Center continue to expand services in Atlantic, Salem, Cumberland and Cape May counties and to coordinate with local providers through Choice and VA provider agreements. This includes exploring ways VA can share treatment records to better coordinate care (NJSHINE). NJSHINE is a health information exchange that electronically connects patient medical records in hospitals, community practices, nursing homes, long-term care facilities and home health agencies in southern New Jersey (Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties). Member hospitals include AtlantiCare, Cape Regional Health System, Inspira Health Network and Shore Medical Center. NJSHINE can help patients and caregivers manage and access the patient’s medical information more easily in a safe and secure environment.
In Southern New Jersey, VA has expanded both primary care and mental health services at the three Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs). VA expanded tele-health services to better connect veterans to care.
Wilmington VA recognizes there are limited specialty services currently available for female veterans and VA is actively recruiting for a lead physician for women’s health in southern New Jersey. VA is also working with the Philadelphia VAMC to assist with the specialty services along with using provider agreements to address their need.
VA is actively working with Inspira, AtlantiCare, Shore Memorial and Cape Regional to provide services when VA does not have capacity for timely access or it is a medical hardship for the veteran to travel to Wilmington from southern New Jersey. VA has expanded their transportation services to help veterans get to Wilmington from the clinics. However, more is needed in both Cape May and Salem counties.
VA is working with Atlantic, Cape May, Salem and Cumberland counties to implement veteran courts and jail diversion services. VA outreach teams are engaged with veteran service organizations and local communities to increase the number of veterans receiving health care.
Last fiscal year, VA cared for 8,141 veterans in the three southern New Jersey CBOCs, representing a 7 percent increase over the prior fiscal year. Plans are underway for a new, 7,500 square feet CBOC to better serve the needs of veterans in Cape May County. VA is also currently developing plans to expand services at the Northfield site. VISN 4 and Wilmington officials are continually meeting with state and local veterans leaders to further explore ways in which VA can better meet the needs of southern N.J. veterans.
Robert E. McNulty Sr., of Egg Harbor Township, is a consultant to the VFW Department of New Jersey Legislative Committee and the New Jersey Veterans’ Hospital Task Force, chairman of the Vietnam Veterans of America New Jersey State Council Government Affairs and legislative chairman of the Fleet Reserve Association Northeast/New England Region.