VETERANS' MENTAL HEALTH AND OTHER CARE IMPROVEMENTS ACT OF 2008 -- (House of Representatives - September 24, 2008)
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Mr. MORAN of Kansas. I thank the gentleman from Indiana for yielding me the time, and I am very grateful for the efforts that he and our chairman, the gentleman from California (Mr. Filner) have made on this entire legislation. But I'm here tonight to express my gratitude for the inclusion of provisions that for a long time have been a high priority for me as a Member of Congress from a very rural part of America. I have always thought that our veterans should not be discriminated against based upon where they live. And while we've made progress in regard to caring for all our veterans, we've made progress in regard to caring for our rural veterans, we still have a lot of effort that needs to be made. This bill tonight takes one additional step that I think is very important.
The Department of Veterans Affairs, through our encouragement, has increased the number of outpatient clinics in this country so that those who live long distances from a VA hospital can access routine health care closer to home. We also have significantly increased the mileage reimbursement rate for veterans who live long distances. That is a major undertaking on our part, particularly with the ever rising cost of gasoline. And so we are making some steps that I think benefit rural veterans.
But still, despite that effort, many veterans, including many who live in my congressional district in the State of Kansas, drive up to 5 hours to access a VA outpatient clinic or a VA hospital. And so what a portion of this bill does tonight, the part I want to commend and bring forth for the Members of the House of Representatives to know and to understand, is this bill requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to create a 3-year pilot project that gives our highly rural veterans living in rural regions of this country the choice to receive health care at home. What this says is that the veteran can have the opportunity to see his or her hometown physician, be admitted to his or her hometown hospital, and that the Department of Veterans Affairs must enter into a contract to provide those services.
So while I am very appreciative of the outpatient clinics and I appreciate the service and care that our VA hospitals provide, we have the opportunity for our veterans, particularly those who are aging, and many of our rural veterans are older every day, many of them are World War II veterans in their eighties and nineties, and a trip that is miles away and hours from home requires a significant undertaking. This allows those who are that distance, and that distance being about 60 miles from a VA clinic, 120 miles from a VA hospital or 240 miles from a specialized care facility, to have those services provided at home.
It's also a good thing for the rural health care provider. I always describe it this way: Our hospitals, the infrastructure that surrounds the delivery of health care in rural America, is a lot like schools. We need every student we can get in a rural school to keep the school going, just as our hospitals and physicians need every patient that they can get in order to keep the hospital alive and well.
So I'm here to commend my colleagues for their support of this legislation. I am very grateful to Delores Dunn, the staff director of the subcommittee, who has shepherded this effort on my behalf but really on behalf of veterans across rural America, and I commend our chairman and ranking member for their strong efforts on behalf of rural American veterans.
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