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Public Statements

Letter to Secretary Shinseki - Expanding Veterans' Access to Non-VA Health Care Facilities in Rural Areas

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Unknown

n an effort to improve access to health care for veterans living in rural areas, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today asked Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki whether it had considered working with non-VA health care facilities in certain rural areas of Colorado. Bennet has heard from veterans in rural areas of the state that they some times must travel long distances in order to get health care from VA facilities.

In a letter to Secretary Shinseki, Bennet wrote, "Veterans living throughout rural Colorado have contacted my office with concerns about the distance they must travel to receive medical and mental health care from VA facilities. In some cases, veterans have to travel hours for relatively common procedures. As you may expect, even some shorter drives over mountain passes in Colorado can be treacherous during winter months, which is especially cumbersome when veterans need to make frequent visits to health care providers for ongoing medical or mental health issues."

The VA already allows veterans in Durango and Alamosa to use local medical facilities for certain types of care. Bennet is requesting more information from the VA about how the agency makes decisions related to access to non-VA medical facilities and whether the VA has considered expanding the use of non-VA medical facilities to other rural communities.

In addition to his work improving access to health care services for veterans, earlier this month, Bennet launched a panel of mental health and medical professionals, members of the military and experts who work with veterans from throughout the state to take a comprehensive look at how we can reduce the number of suicides among veterans. The panel was formed at the recommendation of Bennet's veterans working group.

To read the letter read below:

April 25, 2013

Dear Secretary Shinseki:

I write to inquire whether the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has considered working with non-VA health care facilities in certain rural areas of Colorado to provide medical and mental health care to veterans living in those areas.

Veterans living throughout rural Colorado have contacted my office with concerns about the distance they must travel to receive medical and mental health care from VA facilities. In some cases, veterans have to travel hours for relatively common procedures. As you may expect, even some shorter drives over mountain passes in Colorado can be treacherous during winter months, which is especially cumbersome when veterans need to make frequent visits to health care providers for ongoing medical or mental health issues.

I understand that the VA considers many factors in deciding whether to authorize care in non-VA facilities, and that the VA prefers to serve veterans through its own facilities. However, in certain rural areas in Colorado, the hardships encountered because of the travel distance to a VA facility may outweigh the benefits of requiring treatment through the VA. Moreover, I am concerned that there are veterans in rural Colorado who forgo medical and mental health treatment because the time and expense necessary to travel the required distance to a VA facility makes it necessary or economically advisable to use non-VA facilities.

Based on these concerns, I would like to know whether the VA has used its authority to either contract with non-VA health care facilities or offer fee-basis care in certain rural areas in Colorado. Specifically:

How does the VA decide whether it is appropriate for veterans in rural Colorado living long distances away from VA medical facilities to seek non-VA medical or mental health care?

Veterans living in Westcliff, CO have requested that the VA allow them to use local non-VA health care facilities in their areas. Has the VA considered contracting with private facilities or providing the option for fee-basis care in these communities?
As you know, veterans in Durango, CO and Alamosa, CO are already permitted to access local medical facilities for some types of care. Has the VA considered expanding the types of care that veterans in those communities can obtain from local non-VA facilities?

I appreciate your ongoing efforts to provide the appropriate access to care for rural veterans and look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Michael F. Bennet
United States Senator


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