It’s easy to show appreciation for our military on Veterans Day.
But the truer test of what we are willing to do for those who have served comes when the ceremonies end and flags get put away until Memorial Day.
Access to quality, accessible health care for veterans should be guaranteed. But easy access has not been available in South Jersey for too long. Things are improving slowly, but there is a long way to go — particularly in assuring that veterans don’t have such a long way to go to get that care.
Improvements have been made in recent years to address the most common complaint by veterans — the need to travel to the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Wilmington, Delaware, for much of their care.
Access to mental-health services has increased in Vineland and Northfield. The VA has worked out partnerships with Cape Regional, Shore Medical Center, Inspira Health Network and now AtlantiCare that make more procedures available through the Veterans Choice Program.
And most recently comes the announcement of plans for a more modern VA outpatient clinic in Cape May County, where veterans make up nearly 9 percent of the population.
Some veterans don’t necessarily see that as good news. Their worry is relocating the clinic from a double-wide trailer at the U.S. Coast Guard base in Cape May to a permanent structure will hurt efforts to integrate health care for veterans with major providers, such as through the Veterans Choice Program.
VA officials and elected representatives should ease those concerns by assuring veterans the clinic and integrated care are not mutually exclusive. The clinic should be a welcome next step in the process of improving care.
A “Sources Sought” notice issued about the clinic by the VA at the end of October says the department wants to lease a building of up to 7,200 square feet that is close to public transportation and has plenty of parking in the Cape May Court House section of Middle Township, a more centrally located spot for Cape May County veterans.
“The Coast Guard have been fantastic hosts, but new space is needed to provide for expansion and modernization of health care services,” said Vince Kane, director of the Wilmington VA Medical Center.
That sounds good, but as VA officials gather public input and advance their plans for the new clinic, they should try to ease the skepticism many veterans have learned from years of substandard access and unfilled promises.
In May, veterans gathered in Wildwood to highlight what they see as the failure of the government to care for Vietnam veterans affected by Agent Orange. At a July meeting in Northfield, veterans detailed concerns with the Veterans Choice Program, including problems with approvals, wait times and coordination between the VA and outside providers. The program also has limits based on how far a veteran lives from a VA center.
These are more than simple gripes from old soldiers who don’t appreciate how much better things are than when the troops came home from Vietnam. They are indications of how far we still have to go to properly care for our veterans. A new Cape May County outpatient clinic is one more step in the march toward repaying them for their service.