Helping our heroes: New stakeholders group aims to improve community care for veterans

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton and the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA) are partnering to strengthen health care and community services for military veterans in Mercer County by creating a new committee of key stakeholders who will share information and advocate for the county’s 12,000 veterans.

The committee will convene quarterly and serve as a clearinghouse where members can share information and advocate together to help veterans on all matters, from health care to education and more.

Such county-based stakeholder groups already exist in North Jersey and South Jersey. Once the Mercer County committee is up and running, Catholic Charities and the VA will turn their attention to other Central Jersey counties – including Burlington, Monmouth and Ocean – to create such committees there. New Jersey is home to more than 325,000 veterans, according to the VA.

A proven model

“We know that this model not only works, but it works exceedingly well,” said David Brimmer, community outreach coordinator of the VA NJ Health Care System. “We are the capital county, so we should be the shining example.”

The Mercer County committee met for the first time on Tuesday at the Mercer County Veterans Services in Ewing. Stakeholders represented included the Mercer Council on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, the American Red Cross, Capital Health Institute for Urban Care, the Rescue Mission of Trenton, Rider University’s Veterans and Military Affairs Office, Mercer County Veteran Services, and the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

David Pearson was there too. He’s assistant director of veteran services at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Paterson. He shared how the veterans stakeholder group in his county has helped fill gaps in service. For example, the committee pushed toxic exposure bills in the Legislature and created a Women’s Veterans Appreciation Day, he said.  It also started an “unmet needs” fund, administered by Catholic Charities, to help veterans and their families, no matter what their need is, he added.

“It really has been a blessing for people, because it really helps the people who fall between the cracks,” Pearson said.

At yesterday’s meeting, new committee members talked about a symposium on suicide prevention they hope to organize this spring.

Health care changes

They also listened to a presentation by Brimmer about how the MISSION Act expands veterans’ access to health care in the community.

The MISSION Act, which took effect in June, allows veterans to get health care in the community (instead of VA facilities) under certain conditions, including if specific services aren’t offered at VA facilities (like maternity care) or within a reasonable driving distance or time frame. The MISSION Act replaces the old Veterans Choice Program.

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton has expanded its outreach to veterans, including a Burlington County program started this year called Crisis Intervention Support Services to help veterans and others with mental health needs. Catholic Charities also serves veterans and their families in all its programs in Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth, and Ocean counties.

What’s next

The Mercer County veterans stakeholder group will next meet from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Jan. 28 at the Mercer County Veterans Services, 1440 Parkside Ave., Ewing.

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For more information, contact David Brimmer of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at (908) 647-0180, ext. 5815 or david.brimmer@va.gov; or Dana DiFilippo, Catholic Charities communications, at (609) 381-5181, ext. 1153, or ddifilippo@cctrenton.org.

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