By Erin Delmore
“Rural New Jersey — particularly rural New Jersey in Sussex and Warren counties — very much needed this facility and we in Washington were aware of that and worked together,” said Congressman Leonard Lance.
A roster of New Jersey elected officials celebrated the opening of a new health care center for veterans a couple dozen miles east of the Pennsylvania border.
“It took us, what, maybe 15 minutes to get here, now. To go to Lyons, maybe 45 minutes,” said Vietnam War veteran Robert Wasseut.
The VA serves more than 50,000 veterans a year in the state of New Jersey — a majority, outpatients.
When it comes to VA-run health care centers in New Jersey, there are two main campuses: one in Lyons and one in East Orange. Then, there are 10 outpatient clinics throughout the state.
This new center is the brainchild of New Jersey’s elected representatives. It’s in freshman Rep. Josh Gottheimer’s district and was shepherded by his predecessor, former Congressman Scott Garrett, and Congressmen Rodney Frelinghuysen and Lance and Sen. Cory Booker.
“It pained me when I would go out with a lot of my veterans’ activists as mayor and see so many veterans that were homeless. This is a national shame that we are not doing more to empower the well-being of our veterans,” Booker said.
“When I met in October 2014 up at the county college there was palpable anger on behalf of some of the young Iraqi and Afghani veterans. It was made clear to me that we needed something here in Sussex County to meet the needs of Sussex and Warren counties,” Frelinghuysen said.
“We have thousands of veterans who have historically been traveling to East Orange or to New York and Pennsylvania just to get basic care and were put out of their way. And I think what’s so great about this is finally we have a place that they can call home, that’s nearby and I’m hoping we can get this for veterans across our state,” Gottheimer said.
The new outpatient care center in the Norman Silbert Medical Arts Building in Newton has long been a goal of local veterans looking to close the gap between care and convenience.
“The center offers primary care services and mental health services for veterans that need them. In addition to that, we offer support services for things like smoking cessation and weight loss and other types of services that help veterans manage their chronic illnesses,” said Associate Chief of Staff for Ambulatory Care Pamela Ladot.
Lawmakers considered this a victory in the statewide push for more health care options for veterans — a goal they hope to pursue under the new administration. Amid a slew of often-heated confirmation hearings, new Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin was confirmed unanimously last month.