NJ politicians announce expansion of health care for vets

Navy vet Kevin Clancy says veterans who need hospital services have had just two choices in New Jersey: the VA Medical Center in Lyons, out in Somerset County, or the one in East Orange, Essex County. That made it tough for many North Jersey vets.

“If you can’t get there, you’ve got a problem,” said Clancy. “I’d get guys calling me up all the time, saying, ‘Hey, you know, I missed the bus! So, they have to wait two weeks, and get another appointment…Anything like CAT scans or major stuff like that, if you don’t have to travel to Essex County, it’s a lot better.”

So vets and officials Monday applauded a new health care option: New Bridge Medical Center in Paramus. It’s now a participating provider in the Veterans Choice Program, and will serve not only the 35,000 vets in Bergen County, but any New Jersey veterans who get a referral from their VA physician. Through a partnership with the Veterans Administration, it serves two priorities:

“To create greater choice for veterans, that they can receive timely care and also in addition to improving timely access to care,” said John Griffith, associate director of the VA New Jersey Health Care System.

“This is about us giving them the ability to get more health care. This is about our ability to provide them choice. This is about raising the percentage of veterans taking advantage of veterans’ services,” said Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco.

New Bridge is a new name for the former Bergen Regional Medical Center. The once-troubled county facility was plagued by patient violence, but it’s been run by new management since October and will now offer vets imaging and diagnostic services, like digital MRIs, full-service labs and pharmacy, and behavioral and substance abuse services.

“Words are nice. But action, substantive action, is what folks really need if you’re going to express gratitude. It’s one thing to see a service member and say, ‘Thank you,’ for their service. It’s another to do things that empower our veterans…Perhaps this day, with our veterans, we can rekindle a flame that can bring warmth to our communities at a time that there’s too much cold bitterness,” said Sen. Cory Booker.

“We need action that is tangible so people and veterans believe that they’re being serviced. And not that they’re a burden,” said Congressman Bill Pascrell.

Many hope New Bridge will eventually provide vets with a full slate of inpatient services.

“We’re hoping this will be a full-service VA hospital, at one point. This is just the starting point,” said Alexander Hernandez, the commander of the VFW in Bogota.

They don’t look at you as a dollar sign. They look at you as a veteran, which you are. And the atmosphere is much more conducive and friendly, and it makes you feel good,” said Maenard Burgess, co-commander of the Bergen County American Legion.

Access includes transportation. Vets who drive will get free valet parking, and Bergen County will add extra buses to help vets get to the medical center.