Carl LaGrotterria is getting his wish. After years of overcrowding brought on by burgeoning numbers of veterans, the James J. Howard Veterans Clinic will open a new supplemental location in September.
"They want to help their vets, but the staff sometimes is overwhelmed and overworked," said the 66-year-old veteran from Brick. "The phones are ridiculous. You can rarely get through and have to wait for callbacks."
The news comes as the federal Department of Veterans Affairs faces a litany of complaints about patient care, wait times and falsified data, leading to scrutiny by Congress and changes in leadership.
The reason for the overcrowding can be seen in the statistics. The 34,000-square-foot clinic is located in Ocean County, which has the largest number of veterans — more than 43,000 — in New Jersey. That number is 10,000 more than in Burlington County, which has the second-largest group in New Jersey.
The Brick clinic "was built in 1991. From my understanding, it was established to serve, I believe, 5,000 veterans. We currently have over 11,000 enrolled at this facility," said John Griffith, an associate director in the Veterans Affairs New Jersey Health Care System (VANJHCS).
On any given day, Griffith said, 300 to 500 veterans come through the doors. It adds up to more than 81,000 doctor visits a year. Parking is at a premium, too.
"It's our biggest community-based outpatient clinic ... in New Jersey," he said.
LaGroterria, who has been using the clinic since it opened, said getting a dentist appointment could take up to five weeks, while seeing a doctor could be a wait of about a month.
"The staff is incredibly great. They're just dealing with a huge influx of people in the last few years using that clinic," LaGroterria said. "It's grown beyond belief."
The new facility, located at 1688 Route 88 in Brick, will add 5,000 more square feet. The new outpatient clinic will house physical therapy, prosthetics, optometry and have a shuttle to the East Orange campus, said Sandra Warren, spokeswoman for VANJHCS.
The original facility, nearby at 970 Route 70 in Brick, will maintain its current role, housing the pharmacy, audiology, radiology, dental, mental health care and other services.
The clinic's administration originally had tried to lease additional space a few years ago, but the effort hit a wall.
"The VA was on track to enter into a new lease for a larger Ocean County facility last summer," said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J. "(But) a policy shift at the Congressional Budget Office put the lease in jeopardy."
Then this year, a scandal hit the Department of Veterans Affairs, when reports surfaced of secret waiting lists to mask long wait times and the deaths of 40 veterans who were waiting for care at a Phoenix Veterans Administration medical facility.
An investigation by the VA Inspector General found the long wait lists were systematic across the country. The scandal forced the resignation of Eric K. Shinseki, the secretary of Veterans Affairs.
"That's been the problem for a long time," said LaGrotteria. "They deserve better than that."
Smith said he found the scandal deeply disturbing. "America's veterans deserve real accountability and a cultural change at the VA," he said.
He called it a "sacred task" to care for the nation's veterans.
LaGroterria is a double-leg amputee above the knee who has been using the VA health care system since 1971, when he stepped on an improvised explosive device, or IED, while on a routine patrol in Chu Lai in the Quang Nam Provence in Vietnam.
"What does IED mean? It means they took a whole bunch of garbage, put it together and added some C-4 Semtex," he said.
LaGroterria was just 20 years old when he learned he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
"The Veterans Affairs has been good to me," he said. "The VA is probably the foremost (agency) on research and medicinal technique. From that perspective, the quality of care has improved over the years."
In response to the scandal, President Barack Obama signed a bill last week that will pump nearly $16 billion into the beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs. The money will go toward hiring more doctors and staff, and improving facilities. It also will allow for veterans using the VA Healthcare system to seek care from civilian doctors.
Smith was able to the secure $7 million needed for the Brick clinic to expand.
"Our local veterans will soon have access to a new facility, with additional space and services, including more parking, to help insure they receive the care they have earned in a timely manner," he said.
The new facility however, is not a result of the scandal, said a spokesman for Smith's office.
"The case could be made that if there wasn't a scandal the bill would not have passed. But this project was in the works for a couple of years. It would have taken place without the scandal," said Jeff Sagnip, spokesman for the congressman.
VETERAN POPULATIONS, 2014
43,666 Ocean County
32,059 Monmouth County
Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Adding 5,000 square feet
Some veterans' care would shift to the new satellite facility.
Facility built in 1991
The current building was designed to handle 5,000 veterans.
Serving 11,000 veterans
The clinic is now handling more than twice the number of veterans it was designed to accommodate.
43,666 veterans in Ocean County
That is the largest number of veterans in any county in New Jersey.
Original story ran on Page 1 on Aug. 14, 2014 at:
As horrid details of the brutal torture and treatment of human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng have recently become known, a human rights leader in the U.S. Congress is urging the Chinese government to immediately allow Gao to come to the United States for medical care.
“Gao Zhisheng has suffered unspeakable and repeated torture because he has championed freedoms respected worldwide, but hated by China’s leaders,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, co-chairman of the U.S. Commission on China (CECC), and Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs global human rights subcommittee. Gao was released from a Chinese prison on August 7th but remains under de facto “house arrest.”
“The Administration should be working overtime to help Gao return to the care and comfort of his wife and children,” Smith said. “They are here in the U.S. and he should be, too.”
Gao’s family recently reported that he is suffering from acute physical and mental problems related to the torture, malnutrition, and lengthy solitary confinement he experienced in prison. He was reportedly beaten repeatedly, kept in a small, dimly lit cell, denied any human conversation or reading materials, and fed a piece of bread and cabbage once a day. Gao’s family has asked for an immediate medical parole so he can travel to the U.S. for medical treatment. (South China Post article)
“The life of a dissident in China is brutal and nasty,” Smith said. “The U.S. cannot persist in the fantasy that China’s communist rulers will treat people justly--particularly those who advocate for freedom, liberty and the rule of law. Gao’s freedom should be among the Administration’s top priorities with China.”
The bipartisan U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China estimates there are over 1,200 known political prisoners suffering in China. (Click on http://www.cecc.gov/resources/political-prisoner-databaseto view the CECC’s prisoner information.)
“More needs to be done for the thousands of other prisoners of conscience in China,” said Smith, who has held more than 45 hearings on human rights abuses in China. “That is why I’ve introduced H.R. 5379 to give the President and Secretary of State tools to deny entry visas or freeze the assets of any Chinese official who tortures and abuses freedom-loving dissidents like Gao Zhisheng. China’s police and government official must know that entry into the U.S., or owning property or sending their children to U.S. schools, is a privilege, not a right. Those who so brutally denied freedom to Gao Zhisheng, and so many others, should not benefit from our freedoms.”
Gao’s account of the 50 days of torture he endured while in detention can be foundhere. (click here to read Gao’s biography).
Thousands of American families struggling on very different fronts will received federal support now that President Obama has signed into law two separate bills late Friday, one to help prevent international child abduction and return American children now held overseas, and the other targeting $1.3 billion in federal funds to assist families touched by autism.
"What a momentous day for thousands of families across America," said Rep. Chris Smith, the author of the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction and Return Act (H.R. 3212) and the author of the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research and Support (CARES) Act (H.R. 4631). "While different in scope, these new laws have one, overriding common theme: making the federal government work better for children and families.
"Yesterday, if you were a parent whose American child was abducted to a foreign land, the State Department took a step back and quickly outlined the limitations on what it would do to help," Smith said.
"With the enactment of the ‘Goldman Act’ that policy changes. The State Department gets new tools to effectively engage the fight and work several fronts to get our children back," Smith said.
"The Goldman Act works to right the terrible wrong of international child abduction, end the enormous pain and suffering endured by separated children and parents, and force the federal government to act to bring abducted children home," Smith said. "Left behind parents will now have tangible support and backing from their federal government."
Smith's Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research and Support Act, The Autism CARES Act, builds on Smith's long established record of assisting the now 1-68 children who have been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). According to the latest CDC data released in March, New Jersey has the highest prevalence rate in the nation, with one in 45 children identified as having ASD.
"The Autism CARES Act authorizes $1.3 billion over five years to continue the critical pipeline of federal research dollars that are working to identify best practices for early intervention, treatment and care for families touched by autism," said Smith who has authored previous legislation that has helped form the base line of federal autism programs.
"And the new law, for the first time, tasks the federal government with examining and anticipating needs for autistic adolescents who are 'aging out' of their school-based support and transitioning into adulthood," he said.
Last month Smith held a congressional hearing that delved into successful corporate programs designed to employ persons with ASD worldwide. He said every year 50,000 youths with autism enter into adulthood and communities that are unprepared to meet their need. The federal government can and must play a role in identifying new ways to assist people with ASD in our communities.
Smith said both laws were inspired by the love, work and tenacity of local parents fighting for their children.
The child abduction law is named after David Goldman and his son Sean of Monmouth County, N.J. who were separated for over five years after an international abduction to Brazil. Smith traveled to Brazil with David Goldman twice to help bring Sean home in 2009. Goldman now works to help other left behind parents reunite with their children.
“We finally have a national law that has some teeth in it to prevent future abductions and also get immediate action for victim families," said David Goldman. "Just as it had been in my case, many of these families have been suffering for years fighting to be reunited with their abducted American children. This is a terrific result of bipartisan work. The enactment of this law has been long overdue and is a life boat for these families.”
Regarding the Autism CARES Act, Smith credited Bobbie and Billy Gallagher of Ocean County, N.J.--the parents of two small children with autism who visited his office 17 years ago. Using their own extensive research, the Gallaghers demonstrated how far behind the federal research agencies were in their understanding and work on autism.
“The Gallaghers are pioneers in the effort to find better treatment and interventions for children with autism. Together with other parents they have been tenacious in their efforts to see this bill passed into law,” Smith said.
“The laws we have today to help families with autism would not be on the books were it not for them," he said.
By Times of Trenton Editorial Board
You’re a parent with a child on the autism spectrum and you’ve just gotten the phone call you’ve dreaded for a decade or so: “Your son (or daughter) has aged out of the system.”
Every year, more and more fathers and mothers in New Jersey hear those words. They mean families no longer have access to the support systems that school-based programs provide for young adults who desperately need them.
They mean, essentially, you’re on your own.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-4th District) has shepherded through legislation authorizing $1.3 billion over five years to help ease this stark reality. His bill, co-sponsored by fellow congressman Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), requires federal agencies to address needs of these adolescents as they transition into adulthood.
The legislation passed the U.S. Senate last week, with U.S. Senator Robert Menendez a key sponsor, and the House of Representative in June. Now it heads for President Obama’s desk.
It deserves his immediate attention.
Autism spectrum disorders, a cluster of neurobiological disorders that usually become evident in early childhood, affect one in 68 children nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In New Jersey, it’s one in 45 – the highest occurrence in CDC’s ranking by state.
Smith says an estimated 50,000 young people with autism enter adulthood every year, becoming part of a greater community woefully unprepared to fill the gap. Clearly, this is a public-health crisis in the making.
Known formally as the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support Act of 2014 (Autism CARES), Smith’s legislation sets aside money to continue to unlock the mysteries of autism, and to ensure that families have the tools they need once a diagnosis is made.
Note well that his primary co-sponsor on the bill is a Democrat, and that the measure had 86 co-sponsors from both parties.
Similar across-the-aisle cooperation was in play in the Garden State recently, when Gov. Christie signed a budget for the coming year that sets aside $250,000 in state funding for a statewide helpline.
The advocacy group Autism New Jersey praises the strong efforts of Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) and Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Voorhees), as well as the Republican governor and Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd.
Smith has proven to be a longtime champion of the autism community; he wrote the original 2000 law creating a comprehensive federal response to the developmental disorder.
We salute his compassion, and join him in hoping that the president’s signature comes sooner rather than later.This article was originally printed on August 8, 2014 at:
WASHINGTON – New Jersey is prepared to handle Ebola or any other infectious disease that may appear in the state, Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey said Thursday.
“New Jersey Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd reiterated to me yesterday that New Jersey hospitals have infection control programs,” Smith said. “They train and are ready to deal with potentially infectious patients that come through their doors.”
Congress is not in session, but Smith, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on global health, called an emergency hearing before the panel to address the Ebola outbreak.
Smith spoke shortly after state officials reported that a patient who recently returned from West Africa was being treated at CentraState Hospital in Freehold for flu-like symptoms.
“Thankfully, it was not Ebola,” Smith said. “The patient has been released.”
The recent outbreak of the virus in Africa has killed about 55 percent of its victims, Smith said. The fatality rate ranges from 74 percent in Guinea to 42 percent in Sierra Leone. Symptoms of Ebola include vomiting, diarrhea, stomach and internal and external bleeding.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a level-1 alert on Thursday in response to the Ebola crisis. That’s the highest-level alert the agency has issued since 2009, when it was activated over a flu outbreak.
During Thursday’s subcommittee hearing, Smith told CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden that New Jersey follows specific CDC protocols on how to manage patients in isolation and protect hospital staff from contracting infectious diseases.
Smith said the state’s health commissioner told him the U.S. has quarantine stations throughout the country to limit the spread of a disease that may arrive from an airport, such as Newark Liberty International Airport.
Frieden told lawmakers Ebola can be stopped, but it won’t be easy.
“We know how to do it,” he said. “It will be a long and hard fight.”
More than 900 people have died worldwide from the virus. Frieden said the scale of the epidemic in West Africa, which has never before seen an Ebola outbreak, is unprecedented. This epidemic also is unique because many cases have been reported in urban areas, Frieden said.
The spread of the disease is driven partly by poor infection control in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Guinea, and by inadequate burial techniques, Frieden said.
Frieden said doctors are “months or years away from significant quantities of either drugs or vaccines,” but the CDC knows how to care for Ebola patients and can use proven public health interventions to keep the virus from spreading. Frieden said he’s confident there will be no large Ebola outbreak in the U.S.
New Jersey isn’t the only state to experience a false Ebola alarm. There have been five mistaken cases in the U.S., including one found to be malaria and another that turned out to be influenza, Frieden said.
Smith expressed concern about an Ebola “information gap” that causes patients to resist infection control efforts. Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer, for example, died of Ebola on July 25 in Nigeria because he refused to accept that he was infected, Smith said.
Smith asked officials from CDC, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to consider the “psychological trauma” that isolation has on Ebola patients. Families want to touch and comfort dying relatives, he said, and that can spread the disease.
Smith touted legislation he’s drafted that would develop sustainable treatment plans for tropical diseases that don’t get much attention. Smith said Ebola fits into this category because it’s caused by a pathogen that disproportionately affects those living in impoverished areas.
“Ebola had been thought to be limited to isolated areas where it could be contained,” Smith said. “We know now this is no longer true.”
This article was originally printed on August 8, 2014 at:
Smith’s panel will also hear from the leaders of the two Christian organizations—Samaritan’s Purse and SIM—whose American health workers contracted Ebola and were recently brought back to the U.S. for treatment.
Click here or on image below to watch the CNN interview.
Thursday, Aug. 7 at 2 p.m
Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2172 (first floor)
"We are delighted with the passage of this very important and much needed bill," said Scott Badesch, President and CEO of the Autism Society. "We are very thankful for the leadership of Congressmen Smith and Doyle, whose commitment to helping all impacted by autism maximize their quality of life is outstanding."
“We are so pleased to see this law reauthorized,” said Kim Musheno, Director of Public Policy at AUCD. “Because of this law, children with ASD are being identified earlier and many more are getting evidenced based services. More needs to be done and this bill is a positive step in the right direction with new emphasis on youth transitioning to work and post-secondary education. AUCD applauds Reps. Smith and Doyle and Sens. Menendez and Enzi for working in a bipartisan, bicameral way to get this important law renewed.”
"The Senate has now joined with the House of Representatives in sending a clear and bipartisan message -- the federal government will not abandon three million Americans with autism in the midst of a public health crisis," said Autism Speaks President Liz Feld.
“We are particularly pleased that H.R. 4631 would reauthorize the current Combating Autism Act programs at NIH, CDC and HRSA for an additional five years, through September 30, 2019. A five year reauthorization will be extremely helpful for planning and evaluating the important research conducted under the program,” said James M. Perrin, MD, FAAP, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “We are pleased to support the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2014, and we applaud your efforts and leadership on this important issue….Thank you for all you do for our nation’s children.”
Smith authored the original law, adopted in 2000, that created a comprehensive federal response to combat autism. The Autism Statistics, Surveillance, Research and Epidemiology (ASSURE) Act—which later became Title I of P.L. 106-310 —authorized grants and contracts for the collection, analysis, and reporting of data on autism and pervasive developmental disabilities, and established regional centers of excellence in autism surveillance and epidemiology.
Nearly 17 years ago, Bobbie and Billy Gallagher of Ocean County, N.J, parents of two small children with autism, visited Smith’s district office looking for help. The couple believed their town had a disproportionate number of students with autism and wanted action. Smith petitioned the CDC and other federal agencies to investigate.
After a comprehensive study, CDC determined that autism rates had increased not just in the Gallagher’s area, but across the country. Soon after, Smith introduced the ASSURE Act, HR 274, to authorize grants and contracts for the collection, analysis, and reporting of data on autism and pervasive developmental disabilities. Smith’s ASSURE Act was enacted as Title 1 of the Children Health Act of 2000 and now forms the baseline of much of the federal work in autism today
Smith is also the author the Combating Autism Act of 2011. This Congress, Smith has also introduced HR 3054, the Global Autism Assistance Act of 2013, which establishes health and education grant programs to serve children with autism in developing countries, and recently held a hearing on how international industries are helping individuals on the spectrum achieve career success.
2373 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Elected in 1980, Rep. Chris Smith (R-Robbinsville, N.J.) is currently in his 17th term in the U.S. House of Representatives, and serves residents in the Fourth Congressional District of New Jersey. Smith, 60, currently serves as a senior member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and is chairman of its Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organization Subcommittee. In 2011-2012 he chaired both the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. He also serves as “Special Representative” on Human Trafficking for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and as an executive member of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. Previously, he served as Chairman of the Veterans Committee (two terms) and Chairman of the Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Operations and the Subcommittee on Africa.
Smith has long chaired a number of bipartisan congressional caucuses (working groups) including the Pro-life (31 years), Autism (15 years), Alzheimer’s (13 years), Lyme Disease (nineyears), Spina Bifida (nine years), Human Trafficking (nine years), Refugees (nine years), and Combating Anti-Semitism caucuses, and serves on caucuses on Bosnia, Uganda and Vietnam.
According to the independent watchdog organization Govtrack, as of January 2014 Smith ranks fourth among all 435 Members of the House over the last two decades in the number of laws authored.
He is the author of America’s three landmark anti-human trafficking laws including The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, a comprehensive law designed to prevent modern-day slavery, protect victims, and enhance civil and criminal penalties against traffickers, as well as more than a dozen veterans health, education and homeless benefits laws, and laws to boost embassy security, promote democracy, religious freedom, and health care.
Smith is the author of the $265 million Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005 which established a nationwide program for ethical research and treatment using umbilical cord blood and bone marrow cells. That landmark law was reauthorized in September 2010 for another five years.
In October 2011, Smith’s bill, HR 2005, the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA) of 2011, was signed into law (Public Law PL112-32), a follow-up to his Autism Statistics, Surveillance, Research, and Epidemiology Act (ASSURE) of 2000.
A lifelong New Jerseyan, Congressman Smith graduated from The College of New Jersey with a degree in business administration. Prior to being elected to Congress, he helped run a small business– his family’s wholesale sporting goods corporation. He is also the former Executive Director of the New Jersey Right to Life Committee.
The congressman is married to his wife of 35 years, Marie, and they have four grown children.
Caring for our veterans is a sacred task. I was proud to help secure funding for the Brick VA Clinic's expansion http://t.co/qw5CEyaX5F