WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and U.S Representatives Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11), Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05), and Tom Malinowski (NJ-7) called on the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to authorize the creation of a sixth Vet Center in New Jersey, which would provide necessary counseling and support services to veterans residing in Morris, Sussex, Warren, and Hunterdon counties. In a letter to VA Secretary Dennis McDonough, the lawmakers explained how establishing a sixth Vet Center in Morris or Sussex County will allow for 36,000 veterans to receive access to quality, local, and accessible mental health care and counseling services. Veterans currently living in the state’s four northwestern counties face severe travel burdens in seeking critical services, forcing many to find care out-of-state.

 

This week, Booker, Sherrill, Gottheimer, and Malinowski also convened a virtual roundtable with local veterans, in partnership with NJ SOS Veteran Stakeholders Group, to discuss the need for the establishment of a VA Vet Center in either Morris or Sussex County. Video of the lawmakers’ remarks from the event can be found here.

 

“Without the selfless service of our troops and the sacrifices of their families, we would never be able to enjoy the freedoms that make the United States of America so extraordinary,” the lawmakers wrote. “By establishing a sixth Vet Center in New Jersey, the VA will be able to continue to provide quality counseling services to veterans, service members, Reservists, members of the National Guard, and their families in an accessible location closer to their homes. Additionally, the creation of a sixth Vet Center will remedy overcapacity issues at current VA Vet Centers, therefore ensuring no veteran is sent out-of-state to receive care.”

 

“The NJSOSVETS Veteran Stake Holders Group is happy to be working with the offices of Senator Booker and Representatives Sherrill, Gottheimer, and Malinowski in helping to improve mental health services for the State of NJ,” said David Pearson, Co-Chair of the NJ SOS Veteran Stakeholders Group. “Creating a Vet Center for Northwest New Jersey would be a game changer in bringing the much needed local access to our veterans who bear the emotional scars of war. I can say for all of us at NJSOSVETS that we are grateful for the service of our veterans who gave to this country and that we will always remember them and fight so they get the services they so much deserve.”

 

Booker has been steadfast in his commitment to supporting New Jersey’s service-members, veterans, and their families. In 2017, Booker led the successful effort to establish a new Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) in Sussex County after hearing from veterans living in northwestern counties who had to travel to out-of-state VA facilities to get quality care. Booker and U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) are leading the effort to expand the VA health center in Ocean County in order to better serve veterans in the southern part of the state. Booker is also leading the effort to create a standalone VA Women Veterans Clinic in Northern New Jersey following reports of limited gender-specific programming available to female veterans.

 

The full text of the letter can be found here and below:

 

March 11, 2021

 

The Honorable Dennis McDonough 

Secretary, U.S Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Avenue, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20420 

 

Dear Secretary McDonough: 

 

We write to express our support for the establishment of a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Vet Center in Northwest, New Jersey – servicing veterans residing in Morris, Sussex, Warren, and Hunterdon counties. Today, New Jersey has only five Vet Centers serving the state’s 350,000 veterans, 36,000 of which reside in the state’s four northwestern counties.[1] We respectfully request that your administration authorize the creation of a sixth Vet Center in New Jersey, which would provide necessary counseling and support services to many thousands of veterans residing in the northwestern part of the state. 

 

As you know, Vet Centers are critical community-based counseling centers that provide social and psychological services, including professional readjustment counseling, marriage counseling, and family counseling to eligible Veterans, active duty service members, Reservists, members of the National Guard, and their families. The facilities and services are notably different from those in other VA care settings (e.g. hospitals, clinics, etc.) in a number of important aspects which increase accessibility, interest, and utilization. For example, by offering services during non-traditional hours, Vet Centers are uniquely positioned to allow women veterans, working veterans, and their spouses to receive services at times that fit within their schedules. Unlike mental health appointments at VA hospitals or clinics, children are allowed in all Vet Center facilities, thereby allowing parents to receive counseling services without the burden of obtaining childcare during treatment sessions. All Vet Center treatment is confidential, adding an extra level of security for users who need help but are concerned that receiving treatment could impact their current employment or deployment orders. Finally, Vet Centers do not restrict eligibility based on discharge status or VA health care enrollment, therefore allowing a greater number of veterans to utilize Vet Center services.

 

Today, the VA operates five Vet Centers in New Jersey, located in Bloomfield Township, Egg Harbor Township, Ewing Township, Lakewood Township, and Secaucus Township. Currently, veterans residing in Morris, Sussex, Warren, and Hunterdon counties utilize the Vet Centers located in either Bloomfield, Secaucus, or Ewing– placing a severe travel burden on individuals who need to travel, sometimes over an hour, to receive necessary mental health services. Due to the increased demand at both the Secaucus and Bloomfield Vet Centers, new clients are currently being referred to out-of-state counselors. While this provides immediate access for individuals requiring Vet Center services, it is merely a temporary solution because once in-person visits can resume, clients should not have to travel outside their home-state to receive care. Veterans currently seeing an out-of-state counselor via telehealth will be required to maintain service virtually, or will be reassigned to a new counselor in a closer Vet Center. Both options provide a disruption in service for the client, as veterans will either have to start over with a new counselor, or continue utilizing telemedicine rather than the more effective and/or preferred in-person mental health treatments.

 

Finally, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many veterans are reporting increased rates of hypervigilance, isolation, anxiety, and stress. As the VA continues to prioritize increasing access to mental health services aimed at preventing veteran suicide, we must ensure that veterans and their families have mental health services which are confidential, easily accessible, and tailored to their needs. By establishing a sixth Vet Center in New Jersey, the VA will be able to continue to provide quality counseling services to veterans, service members, Reservists, members of the National Guard, and their families in an accessible location closer to their homes. Additionally, the creation of a sixth Vet Center will remedy overcapacity issues at current VA Vet Centers, therefore ensuring no veteran is sent out-of-state to receive care.

 

Thank you for your time and attention to this important request. Without the selfless service of our troops and the sacrifices of their families, we would never be able to enjoy the freedoms that make the United States of America so extraordinary. We stand ready to work with you and your administration to ensure that all those who wish to utilize Vet Center services can do so locally.

 

                                                                                Sincerely,

 

[1] https://www.va.gov/vetdata/veteran_population.asp

 

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