LEGISLATION INTRODUCED TO ENHANCE HEALTHCARE PROVIDED TO RURAL VETERANS
Legislation Introduced to Enhance Healthcare Provided to Rural Veterans
Senator Chuck Grassley today introduced legislation with several colleagues that would give the Office of Rural Health at the Department of Veterans Affairs support, direction and resources to help coordinate care to veterans living in rural areas.
Grassley said Senator Ken Salazar of Colo. was the lead sponsor of the legislation. Other cosponsors were Senators Richard Burr of N.C.; Mike Enzi of Wyo.; Blanche Lincoln of Ark.; Patty Murray of Wash.; Susan Collins of Maine; John Kerry of Mass.; Ron Wyden of Ore.; Olympia Snowe of Maine; Gordon Smith of Ore.; and Jon Tester of Mont.
"As more and more veterans return home, we need to make sure those in rural areas have ample access to any services they need," Grassley said. "Our veterans deserve the best care and it's only right that we do everything we can from a policy standpoint to ensure they get that."
The bill would increase the mileage reimbursement rate for veterans who must travel to receive medical care to the same rate paid to federal employees and would establish a grant program to assist veterans groups to provide transportation for veterans needing medical care. It would also task the Director of the Office of Rural Health with developing demonstration projects, centers of excellence, and other initiatives to improve access and care for veterans living in rural and/or geographically remote areas.
The bill would improve reimbursement rates for veterans for their travel expenses related to VA medical care. It would reimburse veterans at the same rate paid to federal employees.
VetsRide Grant Program
The bill would establish a grant program to reimburse veterans service organizations and state veterans service officers who provide innovative transportation options to veterans in remote rural areas.
Demonstration Projects within the Office of Rural Health
The bill tasks the Office of Rural Health with developing demonstration projects that would expand care in rural areas through partnerships between the VA, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Department of Health and Human Services at critical access hospitals and community health centers. The bill also instructs the Director of the Office of Rural Health to carry out demonstration projects in partnership with the Indian Health Service to improve healthcare for Native American veterans.
Centers of Excellence
The bill establishes Centers of Excellence to research ways to improve care for rural veterans. The centers would be based at VA medical centers with strong academic connections.
Fee-Based Healthcare Program Report
The bill would require a report on the effects of implementation of a fee-basis healthcare program on rural veterans and on the Department of Veterans Affairs' assessment of mechanisms to expand the program. This assessment was required by the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006.