U.S. Rep. Ron Barber today introduced bipartisan legislation to help veterans access the medical care that they need.
"The Veterans Transportation Service initiative was set up to give veterans better access to the VA health care they deserve--this legislation ensures that it will," Barber said today. "The men and women who have served our country will know that we stand ready to give them the care, and access to care, that they deserve. This legislation helps to fulfill our commitment to those who have served by ensuring that the Veterans Transportation Service can continue to transport veterans to their appointments, treatment and other services."
Barber introduced the Veterans Transportation Service Act with Congressman Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican and Vice-Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. A bipartisan companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Senators Jon Tester (D-Montana), Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia), Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas). The legislation gives the Veterans Administration the full and permanent authority to implement and expand a program that has been shown to be a success.
The legislation is expected to save taxpayers up to $11 million dollars over ten years because the VA would not have to contract with ambulance services and there would be a reduction in mileage reimbursements.
Between October 2011 and May 2012, the Veterans Transportation Service (VTS) transported more than 43,000 veterans door to door, making more than 50,000 trips that totaled more than 2.1 million miles.
The Veterans Transportation Service currently operates out of fifty VA facilities in twenty-five states and the District of Columbia, including the facility in Tucson. This bill will provide the Veterans Administration with the authority to expand the VTS program to other areas across the United States.
Barber pointed out that the VTS program will not replace, but supplement and expand, transportation services already provided by Veteran Service Organizations and non-profits.
The average length of a trip during this time period was found to be nearly sixty miles, making the Veterans Transportation Service a boon for those living in rural communities.
"Not only will the VTS be able to aid veterans in rural communities like Willcox and other areas in Southern Arizona, but it will also help our veterans who have trouble with their vision, or are in too much pain to drive themselves to their local facility," Barber said. "One of my top priorities here in Washington is to help those who have given their all for this country and I will continue to work on this and other initiatives for the benefit of our veterans."
Southern Arizona is home to nearly 100,000 veterans, over 80,000 of whom live in Barber's district. Barber also introduced legislation last Congress to expand veterans' access to health care providers.
Barber's constituent services staff help many veterans in the district in navigating the Veterans Administration and other federal agencies. Barber has pushed the VA to shorten wait times for services and encourages any veteran in his district having issues with the VA to contact his staff for assistance. Constituent services are available at Barber's offices in Tucson and Sierra Vista from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Tucson office is at 3945 E. Fort Lowell Road, Suite 211 and can be reached at 520-881-3588. The Sierra Vista office is at 77 Calle Portal, Suite B-160 and can be reached at 520-459-3115.