‘Go To Bat For Vets’ Pushing To Get New VA Clinic In Brick

BRICK, NJ — As the federal Department of Veterans Affairs conducts a third round of

BRICK, NJ — As the federal Department of Veterans Affairs conducts a third round of bidding for a new facility to replace the over-capacity James J. Howard Outpatient Clinic in Brick, a community group is working to get the new clinic placed in Brick.

The effort to replace the Howard clinic, which opened in 1991 to serve 5,000 veterans and had been handling 400 scheduled appointments a day plus walk-ins before the coronavirus pandemic, has been underway for more than four years.

Go To Bat For Vets, led by Brick Township Council President Lisa Crate and veterans groups in Brick, is working to convince the VA that a new clinic should stay right in Brick.

Plans for a new clinic were approved as a result of changes approved under the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014. That legislation resulted from extensive reports on serious failings of the VA in treating veterans, from extreme delays in access to care to sorely inadequate facilities.

The process of bidding the project started in 2016, and was scrapped once before the VA began seeking bids for a new site in 2018. The 2018 contract process, however, was abruptly canceled in May 1, amid anticipation of the announcement of a new clinic. VA officials have never announced the reasons for the cancellation, and within days a new solicitation was posted, with similar specifications to the 2018 request for bids.

Officials in Brick and Toms River have been waiting eagerly for an announcement of the site, which is expected to serve the largest veterans population in New Jersey and replace the overwhelmed James J. Howard Outpatient Clinic.

With the process starting anew, both towns’ officials are hopeful the new clinic will be put in their towns. Toms River has rezoned property on Hooper Avenue, near the Ocean County Senior Services offices, to entice the VA to choose its location.

Go To Bat For Vets is centralizing Brick’s efforts. They include a petition on Change.org, which urges the VA to keep it in Brick, and the group is highlighting veterans from Brick Township, to emphasize the needs.

“Our veterans and their families need and deserve this state-of-the-art facility,” said Crate, who has been heavily involved in projects with Brick’s veterans organizations to highlight their sacrifices. Those efforts have included plaques honoring those killed in action at Windward Beach Park, and the renovation of Brick’s veterans memorial in front of the municipal building.

Having a new clinic in Brick “would provide not only the services our veterans are seeking but a convenient location for anyone living in Central or South Jersey,” Crate said. “Working together with the community, we can show the Veterans Administration that now is the time to act, make a decision, and bring the new VA Clinic to Brick.”

“Our veterans can’t afford to wait any longer,” she said.

Brick Township Mayor John G. Ducey has long advocated for the new clinic to be built in Brick, on a site not far from the Howard clinic.

The proposed site, a 10-acre parcel bounded by Route 88, Jack Martin Boulevard and Burrsville Road, has been a thorn in the side of township officials for years, as it’s been proposed for housing more than once. The property is in the hospital support zone. It would accommodate the 68,000-square-foot facility the VA is seeking, along with the 480 parking spaces requested.

It is just down the street from Ocean Medical Center, and within 3 miles of multiple entrances and exits for the Garden State Parkway.

“What we need now is a groundswell of support to convince the federal government and the Department of Veterans Affairs to build it here,” Ducey said.

Both Brick and Toms River officials have been lobbying for the clinic in their towns because the clinic would bring jobs to the town, and give local businesses a boost as well.

The Toms River site, off Caudina Avenue, is near the Ocean County Mall as well as the county senior services offices.

Veterans in the area have been begging the VA to get a new clinic in place in part because the parking at the clinic has been beyond inadequate for years. Veterans seeking treatment are forced to park along the driveway of the clinic or even a quarter-mile down the road at Ocean Medical Center — an obstacle for those with serious ailments or physical disabilities.

Brick residents who are interested in helping with the Go To Bats For Vets campaign can visit their website at https://www.gotobatforvets.org/ or the Go To Bats For Vets Facebook Page. There is also an online petition that can be signed by visiting https://www.change.org/BrickVAClinic.

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This article originally appeared on the Brick Patch

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