I recently reintroduced my bill, the Veterans Health Equity Act, in the United States House of Representatives. There is some confusion about the bill, so I want to be perfectly clear--it does not require the VA to build a hospital. This legislation requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure that every state has a full-service veterans hospital, or access to equivalent care in-state. In other words, the bill asks to either give our vets a hospital or allow them to go to local hospitals.
I have been calling for the VA to provide full-service medical care to New Hampshire's veterans since October of 2007 and introduced identical legislation in the 110th Congress and the 111th Congress. This exact same bill was introduced in the 112th by the Congressional Delegation, both Republicans and Democrats, in the House and in the Senate. New Hampshire has not had a full-service veterans hospital since 2001 and is the only state without a full-service VA hospital or comparable facility.
While New Hampshire may be a small state, it has a veteran population over 130,000. Because we lack a veterans hospital, New Hampshire's veterans are often forced to travel out-of-state for medical care. Veterans traveling from the most Northern parts of the state may have to travel three hours to Manchester and then may be forced to travel another hour to Boston if they are referred there for their care. We send our oldest and our sickest the furthest from home, and that is not right. Unfortunately, this routinely happens. Each year, hundreds of patients are referred to both the Boston, MA and the White River Junction, VT facilities.
It is simply a matter of fairness that our veterans in New Hampshire be afforded the same services as veterans in every other state. Though New Hampshire may be a small state, even smaller states with fewer veterans have full-service care available. I am a realist, and I am fiscally responsible. That is why my legislation does not require the VA to construct a full-service hospital in Manchester if it is not economically reasonable. Instead, the Department could work with health care providers in the state to provide care through local hospitals.
The Manchester VA facility has done a great job of reaching out to local partners and getting our vets access to as much local care as possible within their current restrictions. But our veterans, regardless of the services they need, deserve the care that their counterparts in every other state receive. It is unconscionable that we deny them this full-service care and instead offer them patchwork services. I will work with the New Hampshire Delegation, the Director of the New Hampshire VA, and with the Obama Administration to ensure that our veterans have full access to care in New Hampshire.
It is not too much to ask our government to live up to the promises we've made to those who served, and I would be delighted if the VA decides to give veterans local access to health care providers in lieu of building a hospital. That would be easier for veterans and would make more sense. But either way, it is time to act.