Today, U.S. Sen. Franken (D-Minn.) testified at the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and urged its members to act quickly to pass his bipartisan legislation to improve access to health care services for rural veterans in Minnesota and across the country. You can download video of Sen. Franken's testimony here.
Sens. Franken and John Boozman (R-Ark.) reintroduced the Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act this summer, which would give the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Office of Rural Health the tools it needs to help veterans in rural communities get the care they need quickly and without traveling long distances. The bill was originally introduced in the 112th Congress. To read more about the legislation, click here.
"Veterans living in rural communities across Minnesota have told me they run into many roadblocks when it comes to getting quality health care services," said Sen. Franken. "I'm pushing the VA to improve access to health care for veterans living in rural communities. I hope we can come together to pass this bipartisan legislation and do right by those who have served our nation."
Over 40 percent of all veterans enrolled in the VA system live in rural areas, yet these areas have a shortage of medical providers and facilities. Often, rural veterans live hundreds of miles from the nearest VA Medical Center. VA has created smaller community-based outpatient clinics, but they are still often too far away or too small to fully meet veterans' needs. And a growing number of female veterans with distinctive health care needs face particular barriers in rural settings.
Sen. Franken's Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act will help the VA better manage resources and ensure that the Office of Rural Health achieves its important mission. The bill requires the VA to include certain key features in its next strategic plan for the Office of Rural Health. The plan must include goals and objectives for:
Recruiting and retaining Veterans Health Administration (VHA) healthcare personnel in rural areas.
Ensuring timeliness and quality of care by VHA in rural areas through contract and fee-basis providers.
The implementation, expansion, and enhanced use of telemedicine in rural areas.
The full and effective use of VA's mobile outpatient clinics.
The modification of ORH funding allocation mechanisms so that the funds actually go to initiatives and projects that improve access to and quality of care for rural veterans.
In addition, the strategic plan must include procedures for soliciting from VA rural providers a statement of their clinical capacity, how they handle emergencies that exceed that capacity, including mental health emergencies, and how they provide and coordinate health care for women veterans.