TOMS RIVER – It’s said that healing takes a long time, and it also took a long time to get to this stage: the groundbreaking of a new Veterans Administration clinic in Toms River.
The official address is 1051 Hooper Avenue. The groundbreaking was on Caudina Avenue, which is the back road past two banks that leads to the Seacourt Mall. It is expected to open in spring of 2024.
Currently, veterans travel to Brick’s James J. Howard Outpatient Clinic for their needs. They have complained that the facility is understaffed and that it doesn’t have enough parking. Also, some of them have to travel up to East Orange for certain services.
It took years for the VA to choose this location, as towns put together detailed plans trying to entice the federal government.
The new building will be about twice the size, measuring 68,000 square feet. It will neighbor the county’s new social services building when that’s completed. There is also a bus stop and other amenities nearby.
Officials at the groundbreaking said that the building will enhance services currently provided, and will also add more. Some of the specialties noted during the presentation was primary care, mental health, dental, podiatry, and women’s health, which is the fastest growing department.
The event was well attended by local elected officials, county commissioners, and other officials.
“This day is for you,” Congressman Andy Kim (D-3rd) said to veterans attending the ceremony. “A lot of you advocated so hard to get to this moment.”
Many of the speakers at the groundbreaking spoke of a pact between a service member and their country: If you serve this nation, and put yourself in harm’s way, that will be taken care of. It is the way to say thank you.
“But this is only the beginning, and have to work to get it done and then keep serving veterans,” Kim said. “This will be a place of healing, a place where lives will be saved.”
Congressman Chris Smith (R-4th) thanked veterans, reminding them that they are “the eyes and ears of the community, to make sure lawmakers get it right.”
The long-time congressman said he had been advocating for a VA clinic throughout the 1980s. The Brick one opened in 1991, but this one will take it the next step.
Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill wore the Navy uniform that he wore 17 years ago as a way to show solidarity with veterans in attendance.
Most service members don’t make it a career. Most go in for several years and then transition to civilian life, he reminded people. That’s why the VA clinics have to be able to be able to provide a lifetime of care.
“It’s our responsibility to meet their needs,” he said. When you sign up, you write a blank check to the country that you’ll go anywhere and when you come home, that’s when the country has to pay you back and take care of you.
FD Stonewater, of Arlington, VA, is the developer. The company’s managing director, Norman Dong, was in attendance and said that his company had built similar facilities in Maryland and Maine.
Smithgroup, an architectural, engineering and planning firm; Harvey Cleary builders; and T&M Associates, an engineering company, will also be involved.
Naming The Clinic
Hill wants the clinic named after Leonard G. “Bud” Lomell, a Toms River WWII veteran who died in 2011.
As an Army Ranger, Lomell was in Normandy on D-Day. Already injured by machine gun fire, he led his forces on their mission to disable 155-mm cannons that were aimed to keep invaders off the beaches. It was necessary to take out those guns before the rest of the forces came to shore. However, the guns had been moved. Lomell spotted markings in an area that looked like something heavy had been moved through there. He followed the trail and found the guns, disabling them with either thermite grenades or good old fashioned smashing.
Months later, the Rangers would be ordered to take Hill 400, a strategic location in Germany. Many had failed but the Rangers charged and caught the enemy by surprise. They held the hill for the rest of the day, though only 25 of them survived. Lomell suffered a concussion and injured his arm in the battle.
He would be wounded again during the Battle of the Bulge. Tom Brokaw has a chapter dedicated to him in “The Greatest Generation.”
The Brick facility was named after James J. Howard, who represented the 3rd District in Congress from 1965 until his death in office in 1988.
He is known for highlighting the dangers of faulty M16 rifles used in Vietnam. He is also responsible for creating the 55 mph speed limit and establishing the drinking age at 21. His name also adorns housing in Fort Monmouth and the portion of Interstate 195 in New Jersey.