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Public Statements

Rural Veterans Access to Care Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


RURAL VETERANS ACCESS TO CARE ACT -- (House of Representatives - September 09, 2008)

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Mr. FILNER. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I am glad my colleagues and I were able to work together to craft this important piece of legislation regarding our rural veterans. I want to thank the Subcommittee on Health chairman, Mr. Michaud of Maine, and Ranking Member Mr. Miller of Florida for the bipartisan leadership they demonstrated in working on this important bill. And, of course, the leadership on this bill has been for many years Mr. Moran of Kansas.

As we all know, many rural veterans face significant challenges accessing veterans' health care services due to their geographical distance from VA facilities and limited transportation services. Some of these veterans must face commutes of several hours just to utilize some simple health care services.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has acted to better provide health care service to rural veterans, and I appreciate the action they have taken in the past. However, more can and should be done to ensure that our rural veterans have adequate access to care for the services to which they are entitled.

This bill, H.R. 1527, would supplement existing VA efforts by requiring the VA to conduct a 3-year demonstration project to allow rural veterans in four Veterans Integrated Service Networks to elect to receive covered services through non-VA providers. It would allow some rural veterans to receive health care locally, eliminating the frustration and hassle of a lengthy commute to the nearest VA medical center.

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Mr. FILNER. I just want to thank you not only for speaking out for rural veterans who, as you said, are not in your district, but in your State and in our Nation. But your bill that expanded opportunities for affordable housing for our veterans was also a great step forward, and we greatly admire your work here, although you've only been here a short time. Thank you so much.

I yield back.

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Mr. FILNER. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself the balance of my time.

Again, I want to thank Mr. Moran for his leadership over so many years on these issues and I just want to make a couple of points in closing.

Next year when we come back, Mr. Moran, I hope that we could even refine what you have done here a little further. You have made a very important leap forward in dealing with our rural veterans, and you have used the mileage as the distinguishing characteristic.

In part of my district, for example, in Imperial County, California, our veterans are within probably this 120 miles, and yet it is not just the distance, it is the isolation. There is a mountain between two counties in my district. It is not easy to cross over that. So the mileage is not just the only factor. We have got to get some measure of isolation, I would think.

In addition, that county is a very poor county. Many of our veterans do not even have cars. They have to rely on what you so appropriately mentioned, and that is the volunteer efforts of some van drivers. But they are not always there, and they are not always on the day that is needed. So, without cars and being particularly isolated, I think we have to refine that definition of the highly rural veteran.

Let me make just one more point. What you have done here, Mr. Moran, is very specifically designate criteria for which people are eligible to go outside the VA system. I think you have done that very appropriately, and we have been fighting for that for many years.

The Presidential candidate on the Republican side, Mr. McCain, takes that too many steps further. He has advocated a credit card for every veteran to use in any facility. I think that is the wrong approach.

I had the honor over the last month, Mr. Speaker, of going to the national conventions of the Disabled American Veterans, of the American Legion, of the Jewish War Veterans, of the Military Order of the Purple Heart; and I would say unanimously they objected to this so-called credit card for veterans. It supposedly is to increase access, but I think its effect would be to undermine the whole VA health care system.

So while we can I think make sure that access is guaranteed for people in some very specific situations, like the bill that Mr. Moran has before us, I think we have to keep the integrity of the VA system by not allowing that credit card proposal of Mr. McCain to go forward.

Having said that, Mr. Speaker, I would ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days in which to revise and extend their remarks and include extraneous material on H.R. 1527, as amended.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from California?

There was no objection.

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