A rendering of a proposed medical facility on the 'triangle lot' in Brick Township. (Photo: Daniel Nee)
A rendering of a proposed medical facility on the ‘triangle lot’ in Brick Township. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

A years-long plan to replace the immensely overcrowded Veterand Administration James J. Howard Outpatient Clinic in Brick Township with a larger facility has apparently been scrapped by the federal government, Shorebeat has learned.

The VA’s plan was to replace the building, tucked behind Route 70 in Brick near Jack Martin Boulevard, with a new building in another part of Brick or Toms River. Brick Township’s planning board event went so far as to fully approve a 75,000 square foot medical building that met the exact specifications of a federal acquisition proposal for the new building. In Toms River, officials paved the way for the building at a redevelopment site near Caudina Avenue, off Hooper Avenue, adjacent to the Seacourt shopping center. Brick and Toms River mayors John Ducey and Maurice “Mo” Hill, respectively, both lobbied for the clinic – which would feature technology and services above and beyond the existing location – to be sited in their towns. Sources, however, told Shorebeat the new location in Brick – the “triangle lot” between Route 88, Jack Martin Boulevard and Burrsville Road – was all but selected.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Construction and Facilities Management announced that it had canceled the ongoing procurement processes and leasing search for the new facility. New Jersey’s congressional delegation received a letter stating as much May 1, according to U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, who has authored a letter along with Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker in response to the procurement cancellation.

The new clinic was aimed at alleviate chronic overcrowding at the facility in Brick. On a daily basis, all parking spaces are occupied almost immediately upon opening, forcing veterans to park in wooded areas or walk long distances – sometimes close to the highway itself – in order to receive services. The current facility also lacks imagine equipment and other services, forcing veterans who need the VA to provide these services to travel to a hospital more than an hour away in East Orange, either in their own vehicles or via an even longer bus ride.

“As you are aware, Ocean County is home to the largest population of veterans in the state of New Jersey and contains one of the oldest veteran populations per capita in the United States,” the letter stated. “There is a unique demand on the James J. Howard [facility], which was constructed to serve the nearly 5,000 veterans residing in the region during the early 1990s. Nearly three decades later, the Brick [facility] is serving over 10,000 active patient from a community of over 90,000 eligible veterans across three New Jersey counties.”

Making matters worse, the coronavirus pandemic has forced the VA to temporarily close outpatient clinics in Tinton Falls and Hamilton Township and re-route those patient to the Brick facility.

“This announcement now requires the Brick CBOC to serve an even larger patient load, without adequate space to do so effectively,” Kim said. “When our veterans signed up to serve our nation, we made the promise to take care of them on their return. Now more than ever, our veterans need to be able to receive quality, and accessible healthcare, and they deserve to know when the promised new Brick CBOC will finally come to fruition.”

CBOC is an acronym for “Community Based Outpatient Clinic,” the title to given to facilities such as the one in Brick. The three officials addressed their letter to Dr. Joan McInerney, Network Director for the VA’s New York and New Jersey region.

The letter asks, specifically, why the bid solicitation apparently failed and whether there were any discussions between the VA and developers such as a negotiation. The letter also seeks a solution for increased access to the current Brick facility and what measures are being put in place to prevent a future bid solicitation from failing as well.