I thank the chairman for his kind words. I rise in strong support of H.R. 1527, the Rural Veterans Access to Care Act, and I want to commend my friend, Representative Jerry Moran, for his outstanding leadership on this issue.
I represent a district in Illinois that is very rural. I hear often not only from the veterans but also from the critical access hospitals in my district about the frustrations that they feel from the inability to access or provide the care that our veterans so desperately need. We often see our disabled and elderly veterans driving hundreds of miles to the nearest VA facilities in Freeport, Illinois, or Bettendorf, Iowa, some of them having to wait 6 hours just to be seen.
To highlight this point, I recently received a phone call from Illinois State Senator Deanna Demuzio of Carlinville, Illinois, in the southern part of my district. She expressed a tremendous amount of frustration and concern at the fact that one of her constituents, a World War II veteran, was told by the VA that he had to drive 200 miles to get a simple chest x-ray. Like Senator Demuzio, I feel that it just doesn't make sense for anyone to drive 200 miles for an x-ray, one they can get locally.
I have been working with the VA, Chairman Filner, Ranking Member Buyer, and the appropriators, to authorize the community-based outpatient clinic in Whiteside County in my district to address the hardships that veterans face from the distances they have to travel to access health care. Until that happens, I believe this bill will provide the data we need to best serve our rural veterans while also paying attention to the quality of care our veterans receive, and the VA patient enrollment numbers.
Specifically, H.R. 1527 requires the Secretary to conduct a pilot program in four Veteran Integrated Service Networks that would allow the ``highly rural'' veteran to elect to receive covered health services through a non-VA health care provider. Many of the veterans of my district fit under the ``highly rural'' definition, and I am very proud to be a cosponsor of this legislation.
Again, I want to thank Senator Demuzio for her help and support, and to my friend Congressman Jerry Moran for introducing this incredibly wonderful piece of legislation. I believe this information we gather from the pilot program will go a long way in helping our veterans access health care.