As part of ongoing efforts to address New Hampshire's lack of a full-service veterans hospital, U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) are reintroducing legislation that would ensure all veterans have access to local, quality health care. The Veterans Health Equity Act would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to ensure that New Hampshire has a full-service veterans hospital, or that comparable services are provided by contracting with in-state hospitals.
"Our courageous veterans deserve top-quality health care and the VeteransHealth Equity Act addresses a serious inequity faced by veterans in New Hampshire," said Shaheen, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "It is unconscionable that our veterans must board shuttles to Massachusetts or Vermont to get the medical care they have been promised in exchange for their service. Especially during the winter months, travel can often be difficult in New England, and our veterans should not be forced to travel long distances in order to receive the medical care they have earned and deserve."
"Despite having one of the highest rates of veterans per capita in the country, New Hampshire is the only state in the nation without a full-service VA hospital or military hospital providing equivalent care to veterans. That's unacceptable," said Ayotte. "As a military spouse, I personally understand the commitment and sacrifice required of our service members and their families, and I am fully committed to ensuring that our heroes have access to the support and care they have earned. This legislation addresses a top priority for Granite State veterans, many of whom have expressed concern to me about having to travel out of state to access full-service care."
New Hampshire's per capita veteran population ranks among the highest in the nation. Right now, the state has more than 130,000 veterans, and this number continues to grow as troops return from major deployments in the Middle East--including the largest New Hampshire National Guard deployment since World War II. Yet New Hampshire is the only state that does not have a full-service veterans hospital or a military hospital providing equivalent care to veterans.
Shaheen introduced similar legislation in 2009 with former Senator Judd Greg (R-N.H) asthe first piece of legislation she introduced as a United States Senator.
More than 10 years ago, the VA Medical Center at Manchester was downsized from a full-service hospital, meaning New Hampshire veterans requiring specialized care are sent to VA facilities in other states. Last year, on average, 230 veterans a month were sent to Boston for consultations with doctors in specialties not offered at Manchester. Upon request, veterans are provided with transport by volunteer veteran service groups, butvisits frequently take an entire day and often involve travel during rush-hour.
"New Hampshire has a very large veteran population and this care is long overdue. Our veterans should not have to drive to Boston for care they could be getting closer to home," said New Hampshire State Senator Jack Barnes (R-Raymond), a veteran and a long-time advocate for fellow veterans' rights.
"As a veteran myself, access to health care is a key piece of compensation for those who serve our country. That access mustbe local to provide an environment that promotes health and healing," said Peter Burdett, chair of the State Veterans Advisory Council and a president of the New Hampshire chapter of the Military Officers Association of America. "Long travel times for appointments that are out of state are just not acceptable. I trust that early passage of this bill will help military families enjoy improved care."
"This presents a great opportunity for the Manchester VA Medical Center to develop and implement a health care system that provides New Hampshire's veterans with the quality, coordinated and local services they deserve," said Barry Conway, Commandant of the New Hampshire State Veterans Home in Tilton.
The legislation would provide the VA with the flexibility to choose the most cost-effective manner of providing local care to New Hampshire veterans, by either expanding its current facilities or entering contractual arrangements with private service providers.
Shaheen and Ayotte have worked to improvehealth care and other support services for men and women of the Armed Forces. Earlier this year Shaheen introduced the Citizen Soldier Outreach Support Act. The legislation would authorize effective state-led programs, like the New Hampshire National Guard's Deployment Cycle Support Program, to apply for competitive federal funding. Shaheen and Ayotte have worked to secure funding for the Deployment Cycle Support Program, which is a cost-effective, public-private partnership that provides crucial support to reserve and active duty service members and their families before, during, and after deployments. New Hampshire's Deployment Cycle Support Program, which is a model for other states, has achieved tangible results in the areas of retention, divorce, unemployment, and suicide prevention.