The New Jersey Veterans Hospital Task Force has reached an obvious conclusion - which we don't mean as criticism.
Government often has trouble recognizing the obvious. Certainly the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs does. That's what sparked the creation of the New Jersey task force in the first place.
The 18-member panel was created to study the problem of South Jersey vets, many of them elderly and quite ill, who must make all-day trips to far-away VA hospitals to get routine treatment. State Sens. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, and Chris Conners, R-Ocean, Burlington, Atlantic, sponsored bipartisan legislation to create the task force in February 2011.
Originally, the idea was to study, evaluate and make recommendations regarding the construction and operation of a veterans hospital in South Jersey. While there is a newly expanded VA clinic in Northfield, where basic care is provided, the nearest full-service VA hospitals are in East Orange, Wilmington and Philadelphia.
And that means area veterans must endure grueling bus rides and all-day trips to these hospitals. They must wait to see their doctors, undergo whatever procedure they are getting, and then wait some more until all the vets on the bus have had their appointments and they can all return to South Jersey. The day can begin before sunrise and end long after sunset.
So there's no doubt that something must be done. But building a new hospital was not the obvious conclusion. The expense and the logistics made that unrealistic, task force members told NJSpotlight. So the panel settled on the obvious and sensible recommendation - a pilot program allowing these vets to be treated at local hospitals, which would be reimbursed by the VA.
Now the task is to convince the VA to accept this obvious solution. The cost-conscious VA prefers to provide care at its own facilities, and that's understandable. But local hospitals are apparently willing to accept the Medicare reimbursement rate, which is basically rock bottom in the hospital business. And we can see no reason why the VA should not accept this recommendation. Seems to us like a win all around.
The task force is also recommending that veterans in Ocean County - who are currently considered part of the VA's North Jersey service area - be counted as South Jersey vets. The VA has long said that South Jersey does not have enough veterans to warrant an increase in services in the area. But certainly, at the very least, veterans in southern Ocean County should be considered South Jersey vets.
The creation of a task force is usually a way of kicking a problem down the road. But this task force did its job well. Now the Department of Veterans Affairs must do its job and approve the recommended changes.