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Walden Bill Would Help Veterans Receive Care Closer to Home

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Walden bill would help veterans receive care closer to home

Legislation backed by veterans, health care groups

Congressman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) this week introduced bipartisan legislation that would ensure veterans — especially those needing emergency care — will not be turned away from critical access hospitals that are so integral to providing care in rural parts of the country. The idea for the law was brought to Congressman Walden by Steve Donnell, a veteran from La Grande.

Currently, Medicare imposes a 25-bed limit on critical access hospitals, which are facilities located in rural areas no closer than 15 miles to another hospital. Under federal law, patients seeking treatment can actually be turned away from a critical access hospital if they've reached their 25-bed limit, forcing the patient to be transported many miles down the road to the next nearest hospital.

The Veterans Critical Access Act (H.R. 6557), authored by Congressman Walden, would specifically carve out beds for veterans whose care is paid for or coordinated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from counting against the 25-bed limit, giving critical access hospitals the flexibility they need to treat America's military veterans.

"Brave veterans like Mr. Donnell deserve the very best we can possibly give them," Congressman Walden said. "Rural Americans depend upon Critical Access Hospitals for their hospital care. Exempting veterans from the inflexible 25-bed limit imposed by Medicare would be a good first step toward addressing the health care needs of rural communities. No one who needs care, especially our country's veterans, should be turned away from a health care facility and forced to drive many miles down the road simply because of a arbitrary bureaucratic rule."

Congressman Walden introduced in 2007 a separate bipartisan bill (H.R. 2860) that would modify the critical access hospital bed limit to deal with seasonal fluctuations so no one is turned away from their local hospital.

"Under current federal law, veterans that require urgent medical care might not be able to receive it from their local rural hospitals," said Jim Mattes, the president/CEO of Grande Ronde Hospital in La Grande. "That makes no sense. Veterans deserve the best treatment we can possibly give them and I thank Congressman Walden for leading the effort to make sure veterans are treated like people and not numbers that can be literally shuffled around the state to balance a bureaucratic spreadsheet."

The following organizations have expressed their support for Congressman Walden's Veterans Critical Access Act:

National Rural Health Association

"The National Rural Health Association greatly appreciates Congressman Walden's ongoing leadership in rural health," said National Rural Health Association President Paul Moore. "Critical Access Hospitals provide comprehensive and essential services to rural communities and are specific to rural states. In order to provide these needed services to our veterans, a Critical Access Hospital must be granted flexibility in its bed count. It is important to note that granting bed flexibility to a CAH is critical for not only to our rural veteran population, but also for our rural Medicare population. Congress should act swiftly to address both of these problems."

Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems

"Congressman Walden's continued leadership on behalf of Oregon's hospitals and the communities and patients we serve is invaluable," said Andy Davidson, the president and CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems. "Under the Veterans Critical Access Hospital Act, CAHs would now be allowed to omit veterans from the hospital's daily census, ensuring that veterans would never be transferred unnecessarily. We also believe your bill would elevate Congressional awareness to the need for CAH census definitions that reflect annual average census, rather than the current daily census approach."

American Hospital Association

"We applaud Congressman Walden's efforts and are pleased to support the Veterans Critical Access Hospital Act," said Rick Pollack, the executive vice president of the American Hospital Association. "This legislation will give hospitals the ability to continue to care for their current patients, while also being able to provide critical care to veterans who need immediate services in their own communities."

Veterans of Foreign Wars

"This bill would better serve veterans, and we are pleased to support it," said Dennis Cullinan, the director of the national legislative service of the VFW. "One of the larger problems facing the VA health care system is that of access by rural veterans. VA has a wide network of large medical centers and many community outpatient clinics, but they cannot reach every veteran. For veterans in areas farther away from cities or veterans residing in areas without a large veterans population, access is difficult, requiring them to sometimes travel many hundreds of miles for basic care. Congressman Walden's legislation would ease this burden by exempting veterans receiving care in Critical Access Hospitals from counting toward the 25-bed limit."

Congressmen John Tanner (D-Tenn.), Wally Herger (R-Calif.), Michael Michaud (D-Maine), and Jerry Moran (R-Kans.) are original cosponsors of the legislation.

The bill has been referred to the Committee on Ways and Means. Congressman Tanner, the lead Democratic co-sponsor, and Congressman Herger are senior members of the committee. Congressman Michaud is the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee's health subcommittee; Congressman Moran serves on the same subcommittee.

Congressman Walden represents the people of Oregon's Second District, which is comprised of 20 counties in eastern, southern, and central Oregon. He is a member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

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