BRICK – With an estimated 40,000 veterans living in Ocean County, the Veterans Administration’s Outpatient Clinic on Route 70 in Brick is “by far” the busiest of 10 community-based VA clinics in New Jersey, said director of the VA New Jersey Health Care System Vincent F. Immiti.
There are 10,000 veterans enrolled to receive their primary care at the Brick clinic, and with an estimated 85,000 to 90,000 visits a year, the facility is one of the 27 U.S. clinics that will be expanded after Congress approved a $1.5 billion spending plan in 2014 to improve health care to veterans.
Immiti was at Brick’s James J. Howard Outpatient Clinic on Wednesday Aug. 7 to tour the facility along with Congressman Andy Kim (D-3rd), Veterans Integrated Service Network 2 Director Dr. Joan McInerney, Chief of VA Outpatient Clinics in NJ Melba West, and veteran leaders from Ocean County.
Not only is the Brick facility the busiest in New Jersey, it is also the largest and offers more services than the other clinics. With a growing population of younger veterans, not having enough space or parking has been a problem for years.
At 34,335 square feet, the Brick clinic offers services including primary care, mental health, dental, audiology, radiology, pharmacy, physical therapy, and much more.
Tele-Health is a new service for veterans who can’t leave their homes, said Public Information Officer for the VA Jason Kaneshiro.
“Veterans can be seen remotely by a VA doctor using technology like smart phones and computers to improve services to vets,” said Kaneshiro, who served 10 years in the Army.
The square footage for the proposed facility is about 60,000 square feet, and with 450 parking spaces would offer all the existing services and more, he said.
The lease on the Brick clinic expires in September 2020, but there would be a bridge lease until a new facility is completed, said Kaneshiro.
The larger facility might be new construction, or it could be a rehabilitated existing structure, but it is still in the planning stages. There was no word on where in Ocean County it would be located, he said.
Meanwhile, the Brick clinic has hired four doctors to replace doctors who left, and they are adding a nurse practitioner, which would give the clinic increased capacity, Immiti said.
The two VA medical centers in New Jersey – one located in East Orange, and the other in Lyons in Somerset County – are “very, very short-staffed” of physicians, Immiti said, which could be caused by physician salary limits and/or by marketing towards physicians.
The hospitals’ affiliation with New Jersey medical schools has helped a great deal, he added.
Beginning on June 6, 2019, under the Mission Act, veterans have more ways to access health care by making it easier for them to seek medical care by using a network of providers in the community, Kaneshiro said.
The White House has a VA hotline where veterans can report or make a complaint about their medical care. The number is 1-855-948-2311.
“The calls get filtered down to individual networks, and they get to us eventually so we can try to set things right, but it takes time,” Kaneshiro said.
After Congressman Kim toured the facility and spoke to several veterans he said he had a dual purpose for his visit to the James J. Howard Outpatient Clinic.
“I’m trying to make sure the VA stays on track with the dates for the new clinic to open in 2021,” he said.
Kim said he calls and meets with the VA on a regular basis. “I have been told that that target will be met,” said Kim, who serves on the Armed Services Committee.
His second reason for coming to Brick was to make sure that veterans are getting quality care until the new clinic is opened, he said.
“The Office of Construction and Facilities Management in Washington D.C. is evaluating sites and evaluating bids for the new clinic, and will ask for our input, and then we’ll take a look at the sites and at where the veterans are,” Immiti said.
Hazlet veteran Jimmy Krause, 37, said he comes to the Brick clinic two to three times a week.
“I drive here for the extra services they offer for alternative therapies for mental health,” he said. “Parking is a little difficult, and space is an issue, but the staff is amazing, especially for Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans, he said.
Krause served in Iraq for a year during the initial invasion in 2003 and again in Afghanistan in 2006.