TOMS RIVER – The James J. Howard Outpatient Clinic is the closest point of service for area veterans. But, with Ocean County being host to an extremely large population of veterans, the demand for care greatly outweighs what the building can handle.
Traffic and parking problems also make the site inconvenient for people who are looking for care. Therefore, alternate site locations are being scouted.
Congressman Tom MacArthur (R-3rd) told a meeting of the Ocean County Mayors’ Association at their May meeting that the location scouting is going beyond Brick. While Brick is not off the table at this point, most of Toms River is being looked at as well. A small part of Berkeley is also a possibility. A small area of Lakewood is also in the search area, but MacArthur said that putting it in a busy town like Lakewood would not solve the problem.
A building of the magnitude needed to handle the veterans in the area is extremely costly, he said. If a town is able to give land, it would help reduce the cost.
Local officials, interviewed in the days following the meeting, had their own ideas of where to put the new VA.
Brick Mayor John Ducey has proposed a plot of land in the triangle between Route 88, Jack Martin Boulevard, and Burrsville Avenue.
“We have the perfect choice,” he said. There’s enough land for a sizeable building, with the parking that would be needed. It’s on a state highway, which is one of the things the federal government will be looking at.
“It’s across the street from the hospital in case a veteran has more serious needs that need to be met,” he said, referring to Ocean Medical Center.
The land is currently zoned as a hospital support zone, he said.
Toms River Councilman Maurice Hill said that his town put in a letter of intent to have the clinic in the area of Hooper Avenue and Caudina Avenue. This is the intersection near a few banks and the Presbyterian Church of Toms River where drivers can find the back entrance to the Seacourt Mall.
This spot would be the best case scenario for a VA clinic, said Hill, a Navy veteran. It is more centrally located in the county, and Hooper has less traffic than those areas in Brick. Some of the land is owned by the town, and some is privately owned.
It would also be within walking distance to the Veterans Service Bureau, so there could be “one-stop shopping” for veterans who need to get a lot done in one day.
Previously, the township was considering a spot on Route 9 south of the Joseph A. Citta Elementary School, but decided to go with this site instead.
County administrator Carl Block reiterated that there are a high percentage of veterans in Ocean County, and with the county’s large senior population, it means that there are a great deal of older veterans who have more involved needs.
“We absolutely support it staying in Ocean County,” he said.