OCEAN COUNTY – While local officials continue to push for a new veterans clinic, there doesn’t seem to be one on the horizon any time soon.
The current building, the James J. Howard Outpatient Clinic, opened more than 25 years ago in Brick, but the veteran population has since outgrown it. The facility services people from all over Ocean County, but also since it’s so close to the northern border, it’s easier for some Monmouth County residents to go there, too.
There are two major problems with the Brick location: space and parking spaces. There’s not enough space inside the building to serve the veterans that need help, and there aren’t enough parking spaces for them all to park either.
While plans for the clinic seemed to be progressing, issues with the federal bidding process led the VA to cancel a contract to build the clinic.
John Dorrity, the director of the Ocean County Veterans Services Bureau, said that the contractor got to the point of breaking ground and quit, so they had to start the whole process over again.
As to what actually happened is unclear, but there are a lot of people pointing fingers, he said.
He hasn’t heard any news about the project moving forward since this current rut.
Even the location of the future VA is being debated. Toms River wants to move it to a spot off of Hooper Avenue behind the Seacourt Shopping Center. The land back there is being redeveloped into office buildings and housing. Brick has been wanting it to stay in their town, but at a different location. As recently as 2019, they were scouting two spots – behind the Lowe’s Home Improvement store on Cedar Bridge Avenue, and a wooded triangle-shaped piece of property located between Burrsville Road, Jack Martin Boulevard and Route 88
On a regular basis, local officials call for the VA clinic to move forward. The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders have been vocal about it, as have several local officials. The most recent Berkeley Township Council meeting had their governing body issue a resolution to the powers that be to that effect. Mayor Carmen Amato called the delay “unacceptable.” He also noted that the Toms River location would be better for Berkeley residents because it’s closer and better for public transportation.
Congressman Andy Kim (D-3rd) said in a recent op-ed he was told that New Jersey might not see a new facility until at least 2024, a decade after the replacement process had started.
The op-ed, co-written by Barbara Kim-Hagemann, state commander, VFW Department of New Jersey, laid out some things that the VA can do right now:
- fully staff the current clinic
- establish a mobile “Touch Point” clinic to meet vets closer to home
- find solutions to the parking problem
- meet with veteran leaders publicly to provide transparency and hear what they have to say.