Rep. Salazar Honors Rural Veterans By Working to Improve Their Access to Health Care
U.S. Rep. John Salazar (CO-3), the only military veteran in the Colorado Congressional delegation, is sponsoring legislation to expand and improve access to health care for veterans living in rural communities.
A 2004 study by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) found that rural veterans are in poorer health than those living in urban areas. Because of the distance and other difficulties associated with obtaining care, many rural veterans put off preventive as well as necessary treatment, which can result in poor health and increased costs.
"Across America, one in four veterans live in a rural area," Rep. Salazar said.
"These veterans shouldn't have to drive hours to receive the health care services our nation promised them. Every veteran should have easy access to quality, affordable health care. This bill is the next step forward in ensuring that our veterans are taken care of and have the health care services they were promised."
To improve health care for veterans, last year Congress passed The Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006, which created the Office of Rural Health in the Department of Veterans Affairs. However, this new office needs support, direction, and resources in order to fulfill its mission.
Salazar's legislation, The Rural Veterans Healthcare Improvement Act of 2007, will improve access to health care by requiring the VA's Office of Rural Health to implement the following research and solutions:
Unique Test Projects to Improve Health Care Access
The bill directs the recently created Office of Rural Health with developing unique test projects that would expand health 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, as well as the Indian Health Service. A report to Congress on these test projects would be due in two years.
Academic 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. The Office of Rural Health would establish between one and five centers across the country with the advice of an advisory panel.
VetsRide Grant Program
The bill establishes a grant program to provide innovative transportation options to veterans in remote rural areas. The bill tasks the Director of the Office of Rural Health to create a program that would provide grants of up to $50,000 to veterans' service organizations and State veterans' service officers to assist veterans with travel to VA medical centers and to improve health care access in remote rural areas. The bill authorizes $3 million per year for the grant program through 2010.
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, by increasing it from 11 cents per mile to 48.5 cents per mile.