HeroCare Connect aims to hasten the healing for New Jersey vets

    HeroCare Connect, a new personalized health care service for veterans in New Jersey, aims to reduce the wait to see a doctor to 48 hours.

    It’s time for veterans to feel in control of their own health care — and to take charge, said Gov. Chris Christie at an American Legion hall in Pemberton to announce the program’s launch.

    “It is critical for our veterans to have access to medical care when they need it. It’s also critical to understand that they are active participants in their decisions about their health care,” Christie said. “And to get that health care, when it’s decided upon, as quickly as possible so that the healing process can begin.”

    The program offers more health care provider options, with doctors who practice in more than 75 medical specialties, at more than 100 community medical centers.

    With a phone call, active duty military, veterans, and their families can connect with doctors and specialists through the program sponsored by Cooper University Health Care and Deborah Heart and Lung Center.

    ‘Nobody wants to ask for help’

    Feeling at home — and at ease — can be a challenge for veterans. For those who serve their country and return a hero, civilian life can be bewildering, even lonely.

    “I found myself lost and broken, trying to fill this void. I don’t know if the help was available, but nobody wants to ask for help,” recalled Donnie Davis, an Air Force veteran from Franklinville in Gloucester County. Davis served in the Presidential Honor Guard, a highly selective unit.

    “We had to put on a certain front because every day could be our last day,” Davis said. After the Air Force, he joined a police department in Prince George County, Maryland, until his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder forced him to resign.

    Davis said it’s hard to talk about that long, difficult journey.

    “You know, when you come out of boot camp, you’re told that you’re a lean, mean killing machine. That’s what they’ve built and created,” he said. “So to admit you have a problem is saying you have a chink in the armor. And you just can’t do that. It’s not the way you’re trained.”

    Davis, who said his recovery depended on reaching out, said he found God — and that saved his life. Now, he’s a pastor and founder of Operation Safe Haven, a housing program for homeless vets in South Jersey. He said he’s learned that a lot of people really do want to help.

    “The people in our Gloucester County office are phenomenal,” said Davis. I remember “walking in there, seeing the older, old-school vets, the older gentlemen sitting in the waiting room, just trading war stories. The moment you’re at the counter, for me personally, was a great experience.”  An alternative to VA care

    As a link to private-sector health care, HeroCare Connect will serve active duty military, their families, and veterans — with a focus on the 44,000 soldiers, sailors, marines, and Coast Guard at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in South Jersey — the program is an alternative to the Veterans Affairs health care system, which operates more than 1,200 facilities nationwide.

    HeroCare Connect doesn’t take away benefits for those who already participate in the Veterans Choice Program. That allows veterans to receive medical care at non-VA facilities under certain conditions: if a veteran faces an appointment wait time of longer than 30 days, or if she more than lives more than 40 miles from the closest VA medical center or clinic.

    HeroCare Connect achieves a similar outcome — though, in addition to the 176,000 veterans who live in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties, it also serves active duty military men and women and their families.

    Davis said he’s fortunate enough to have access to health care through his wife, so he doesn’t plan to use HeroCare Connect just yet. But he said he hopes the program will help fellow veterans who are brave enough to make the call.

    The hotline number is 1-866-943-7622.

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