Robert E. Ford Jr., of Galloway Township, knows firsthand that during and after the Vietnam War, veterans had few services to take advantage of, and most people didn’t care.
Ford, 69, who did two tours in Vietnam between 1968 and 1971, saw how things started to change for the veterans who came back to this country after fighting in the post-Sept. 11, 2001, wars.
“After 9/11, more and more people were getting into the military. More and more people were getting deployed, and as people came home in pieces, there was a greater need for treatment and services, treatment of all kinds, not just physical, but also psychological treatment and services,” Ford said.
Two services started after 9/11 that were not available to veterans of previous wars.
The Department of Defense began the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program in 2008 to promote the well-being of National Guard and Reserve members, their families and communities by connecting them with resources throughout the deployment cycle.
An estimated 355,766 veterans live in New Jersey, according to the VA. In Cape May County, veterans make up nearly 9 percent of the population, one of the highest rates in the state.
At Yellow Ribbon events, National Guard and Reserve members and their families can access information on education, employment, financial and legal benefits and health care.
The Wounded Warrior Project started in 2003 as a nonprofit charity that serves veterans (and their families) who incurred mental or physical illness, injury or wounds as a result of their military service on or after Sept. 11.
South Jersey veterans may be a little better off than their fellow service members in other parts of the country, at least when it comes to education, said Jason Babin, director of Stockton University’s Office of Military and Veteran Services.
Babin, 35, of Galloway Township, is a veteran himself. He spent six years as an engineer in the U.S. Army.
After his time in the military, he decided to pursue a career in academics and higher education. Babin said he sent out 50 applications looking for jobs and didn’t get that many interviews. He ran into a problem many other veterans can relate to.
“They all questioned my military experience and whether or not I could function in a higher-education environment without the structure. ... Higher education is very independent, very different thinking,” Babin said.
When he interviewed at Stockton University in Galloway Township, they never asked if he could function. They knew right away he could.
“Stockton University did something that many other institutions don’t in that they saw my military experience as not a negative, but an actual positive,” Babin said.
In 2009, Stockton was one of the first in the state to create its own Office of Military and Veteran Services. The school hired a staff whose focus was making sure veterans are successful in their academic progress, Babin said.
Stockton was one of the first in the state to create a veterans’ lounge for its students, with an attached quieter computer lab, Babin said.
Even though services have increased and improved for service members, there is still more that needs to be done.
Jim Keyser, 68, of Ocean View, Dennis Township, remembers Egg Harbor Township resident Charles R. Ingram III, 51, dying at Temple Health’s burn unit in Philadelphia hours after dousing himself with gasoline and setting himself on fire March 19, 2016, outside the Northfield clinic, which is part of the Wilmington VA system.
The clinic at 1901 New Road was closed at the time, as it always was on weekends.
There have been positive changes made since then, but Keyser said more work could be done as far as educating veterans about all the available services.
“The services that are provided are a little bit better, but the things that were troubling the VA before are still there. Veterans having to get on a bus and travel 80 miles (to visit a VA hospital) because the Choice Program ... doesn’t work,” Keyser said about the health program known as Veterans Choice. “The VA system is what is really screwed up, not necessarily the people.”
Since Ingram’s death, the work of retiring U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, and others has led to a new, expanded Vineland clinic and hours extended at both Vineland and Northfield’s community-based outpatient clinics.
The VA has provider agreements with more than 220 South Jersey medical providers, including Bacharach Institute, Cape Regional Medical Center, HealthSouth, Inspira and Shore Medical Center. In 2015, the VA had no provider agreements with local medical facilities.
And most recently, LoBiondo announced last month that a new Veterans Affairs clinic is coming to Cape May County. Details are being worked out.
Help available to veterans includes:
Atlantic County Veterans Services; visit aclink.org or call 609-677-5700.
Ventnor Vet Center. Call 609-487-8387 or 609-487-8387. The address is 6601 Ventnor Ave., Suite 105, Ventnor Bldg., Ventnor, N.J. 08406. For assistance after hours, weekends and holidays, call 877-WAR-VETS.
Stockton University’s Office of Military and Veteran Services. Visit stockton.edu or call 609-652-4315.
The Wilmington VA Medical Center in Wilmington, Delware. Visit wilmington.va.gov
Atlantic County Community Based Outpatient Clinic, 1909 New Road, Northfield, 08225
Cape May County Community Based Outpatient Clinic, 1 Monro Ave., Cape May, 08204
Cumberland County Community Based Outpatient Clinic, 79 W. Landis Ave., Vineland, 08360
WOUNDED OR DISABLED VETERANS
Wounded Warrior Project is a nonprofit, charity and veterans-service organization that offers a variety of events, programs and services for wounded veterans of the military actions after Sept. 11, 2001. Visit woundedwarriorproject.org or call 877-832-6997.
Disabled Veterans of America, a nonprofit charity issued a federal charter in 1932, provides a lifetime of support for veterans of all generations and their families.
DAV, Chapter 70, 601 Dolphin Ave., Northfield, meets at 7 p.m. on the second Wednesday monthly. Call 609-432-3255.
DAV, Chapter 10, 433 White Horse Pike, Absecon, meets at 6:30 p.m. on the second Monday of each month, starting in December.
DAV, Chapter 58, American Legion #4, 28 South West Ave., Vineland, 08361, meets at 8 p.m. on the fourth Thursday monthly. Call 856-696-0335.
THE AMERICAN LEGION
American Legion posts can be found in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and southern Ocean counties. Check legion.org for addresses, phone numbers, dues, meeting times and dates, and the names of commanders.
VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS
VFW posts can be found in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and southern Ocean counties. Check vfw.org for addresses, phone numbers, dues, meeting times and dates and the names of the commander and quartermaster.
VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA
The VVA’s goals are to promote and support the full range of issues important to Vietnam veterans. Visit vva.org or call 301-585-4000. Address: 8719 Colesville Road, Suite 100, Silver Spring, MD 20910.