Local veterans are now able to use their VA benefits for long-term care services at two Atlantic County nursing homes after the federal government awarded two contracts to expand access in South Jersey.

Veterans can access rehabilitation, respite, end-of-life care, hospice care, speech and other therapies and more long-term services at Eastern Pines Convalescent Center in Atlantic City and Meadowview Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Northfield, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Wilmington Medical Center officials announced Monday.

Herb Davis, Disabled American Veterans service officer with Northfield Chapter 70, said the partnerships were a long time coming and the additional options will fill existing gaps.

“It’s so important, because it’s bad enough being an unrecognized veteran in common life, but to know that there are benefits available and veterans can’t use them because there’s no facility for them, it’s more trying for those individuals,” he said.

Bob Frolow, director of veterans services in Atlantic County, said the five-year contracts will open more doors for veterans who may have previously been on a lengthy waiting list to get into the state Veterans Memorial Home in Vineland or had to use Medicare, Medicaid or other income at non-VA contracted facilities.

Vince Kane, director of the Wilmington VA Medical Center, said the contracts are part of an ongoing effort by Veterans Affairs to grow services in southern New Jersey, including for the estimated 11,760 veterans eligible for VA services in Atlantic County.

Eastern Pines is a 141-bed, long-term care and rehabilitation facility with a specialty unit for respiratory patients. Meadowview, a 180-bed long-term care and rehab facility, will use the contract to expand specialization in veterans care, officials said.

Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said the county has pursued partnerships for VA services for a long time with help from U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, and advocates, including the late April Kauffman.

“Having these services available locally will not only benefit our veterans but also their family members who can more easily visit them and transport them without the complication of extensive travel,” Levinson said in a statement.

Meadowview administrator Michelle Savage said the county-owned and operated facility has plans to transform an existing unit into a designated veterans’ wing.

Kane said there are also plans to open a new outpatient clinic in Cape May County while expanding services in Atlantic County so veterans can get medical care closer to where they live.

Veterans interested in services can call the Meadowview admissions office at 609-645-5955 and the Eastern Pines admissions office at 609-344-8900, ext. 103, or email Donna.Crossland@va.gov. To learn more, go to wilmington.va.gov.

Contact: 609-272-7022 NLeonard@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

Previously interned and reported for Boston.com, The Asbury Park Press, The Boston Globe