Montana's Congressman, Denny Rehberg, today helped secure passage of the Rural Veterans Access to Care Act on behalf of Montana's 100,000 veterans. Rehberg worked closely with Jerry Moran (R-KS) to ensure that Montana was included in the legislation which passed by a vote of 417-0.
"Montana is a lot different than San Francisco or New York, and I think people would be surprised by how hard it can be to make that point to colleagues who have lived in cities their whole lives," said Rehberg, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. "In Montana we have thousands of veterans that live in remote areas many hours from the VA care they deserve. While Fort Harrison provides top-notch care, physically getting to a clinic can be difficult in good weather, and downright impossible when it's bad. This bill allows rural veterans to receive care closer to home at local hospitals or a physicians office."
The bill creates a 3-year pilot project which would allow veterans that live at least 60 miles from a VA outpatient clinic, 120 miles from a VA hospital or 240 miles from a VA specialized care facility to seek care from a local hospital or physicians office. These requirements are based on the VA's own access criteria goals for veterans living in highly rural areas. It's estimated that 44% of military recruits come from rural areas.
"This is the biggest ray of sunshine for veterans in Montana in the last half century," said Dave McClean, Montana State Commander for the American Legion. "The American Legion supports this bill 100 percent, but much more important than what the American Legion thinks is what this bill means to Montana veterans. We've been fighting for years to improve access to healthcare and they just don't understand in places like California, Illinois and New York what it actually means to have only one VA medical center in a state like Montana. We appreciate Denny Rehberg's testimony on the House Floor as it really demonstrates his dedication to veterans."