A proposed restructuring of Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities would create a new medical center near Camden and a new clinic in Toms River.
The Paterson Clinic would close, however, with patients being treated at Hackensack instead. And veterans with spinal cord injuries should go to a medical center in the Bronx instead of being treated in East Orange.
These changes would be part of a massive overhaul of the VA health care system that agency officials say would better reflect the needs of current veterans and build facilities where they currently live.
“VA came to these recommendations by asking us one question first and foremost: what is best for the veterans we serve?” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “Because that’s our number one goal, today and every day.”
The recommendations are just the start of a process that also involves Congress and a presidential commission before the recommendations are presented to the White House next year. The process is similar to that used to shut down unnecessary military bases.
Even if the recommendations are approved, however, Congress will have to approve funding to build the new facilities.
But members of Congress, including Representative Mikie Sherrill, a Navy veteran, are already raising objections. Sherrill, D-11th Dist., said she was concerned the proposals were “too focused on quantitative data and did not take into account the needs and experiences of veterans who have used these services for years.
And a bipartisan group of seven U.S. senators, led by Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, introduced bipartisan legislation to scrap the entire process.
“Our veterans put their lives on the line to protect our nation and deserve easy access to the health care they’ve earned,” Manchin said.
New Jersey VA spokeswoman Christine Betros Farrell said any decision could take years.
“Nothing changes now for veterans’ access to care or VA employees,” she said. Anny’s decisions “could impact VHA facilities and personnel, but it is too early to know exactly what those impacts might be and where. VA will remain in all of our healthcare markets.
Under the proposal, a new medical center would be built in or near Camden to replace the existing clinic and will provide primary care, outpatient mental health and specialist care, as well as addiction treatment programs and drug addiction.
Under the plan, current hospital medical and surgical services would be abandoned at the Wilmington, Delaware Medical Center, which currently treats South Jersey veterans. Additionally, the medical center in Coatesville, Pennsylvania would also be closed.
Spinal cord injury treatment would be moved from East Orange Medical Center to the Bronx, which the VA says would better accommodate a dwindling number of veterans who need such treatment.
The recommendation to close the Paterson Clinic is based on declining patient numbers. It decreased 17.4% from 2015 to 2019, and the number of Passaic County veterans using VA medical facilities is expected to decrease 19.4% from 2019 to 2029, the VA said. The Hackensack Clinic is eight miles away.
Lyons VA Medical Center in Somerset County would expand from 138 to 40 beds and treat veterans with drug and other addictions, as well as dedicated beds for homeless vets. In addition, the VA would investigate whether an expanded psychiatry program for the elderly is needed in Lyon.
Sherrill said many veterans like the way things are.
“I’ve heard of many veterans in my district who regularly receive care at some of the facilities that may be affected,” Sherrill said. “I know that for many of these veterans, these VA facilities are the primary place they seek care because of the relationships they have established with providers, the routines they have established, or the convenience of the locations. “
Some services would instead be provided by community providers, which the union says would mean private clinics rather than VA doctors. Wilmington would also lose its emergency room and instead operate an urgent care clinic.
The loss of inpatient facilities means doctors will want to practice elsewhere, said Marilyn Park, a lobbyist for the American Federation of Government Employees. It’s “the way you empty a medical center,” Park said.
The union called the whole plan another step toward handing over the veterans’ health care system to private industry.
“Closing VA facilities will force veterans to rely on uncoordinated, private, for-profit care, where they will suffer long wait times and be left without the unique expertise and integrated services that only the VA provides,” said the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees. said Everett Kelley.
“Each time the VA has attempted to privatize veteran care, the private sector has charged veterans more money out of pocket for worse outcomes,” he said. “The closure of facilities must be entirely irrelevant. Our veterans deserve better.
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