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    South Jersey congressman reintroduces bill to expand non-VA care to vets

    U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey is trying again on a House bill that would allow veterans to seek medical care outside the VA.

    Current law allows vets to get treatment at non-VA facilities only if they live more than 40 miles away from a clinic or have had to wait more than 30 days for an appointment. Because much of South Jersey is within that range, most vets are ineligible — even If they have more serious conditions that can’t be treated by the clinics.

    “For a vet who has either acute care or some of what is not covered by a local clinic,” said LoBiondo, who represents South Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District, “I don’t think they should have to go to Wilmington or Philadelphia.”

    Joseph Hannagan, the director of veteran services in Salem County, agreed the lack of a private option creates a travel problem for the sickest vets.

    “These veterans sit on a bus for three hours one way, three hours the other way — plus being in the hospital all day,” he said.

    The legislation would build on the $10 billion Veterans Choice Card program Congress put in place following revelations last spring that wait times at VA medical centers were putting veterans at risk.

    LoBiondo’s proposal would remove the restrictions on the Choice Card program in a two-year pilot project for vets living in certain geographical areas, including South Jersey.

    “I’d like to make it easier for them,” said LoBiondo of vets needing medical assistance. “They’ve served our country; they’ve given an awful lot. This is pretty much what we have promised them, and I think the time has come for us to at least try it here in our district.”

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