Capitol Report: Fighting for Rural Veterans
It is no secret that America has the finest fighting force this world has ever seen. When those brave military men and women return from service, it is our duty to provide them with the benefits they have earned and deserve. From long wait times to subpar care, the Department of Veterans Affairs has not provided the exceptional care that we expect for our heroes. This is especially apparent for veterans in rural areas. As an advocate for rural America, it has been my mission to improve the care of these veterans, and all veterans across this great nation.
There have been multiple improvements to the VA recently, including the Veterans Choice program established in the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act. This legislation passed with bipartisan support in the House and Senate and was signed into law last summer. It created a program that allows the government to pay for private care for veterans that live far from VA facilities or are facing wait times longer than 30 days. Since the program went into effect last November, the VA has issued almost eight million Veterans Choice Cards. Since November, “More than 45,000 medical appointments have been scheduled through the Veterans Choice Program, and 45,990 Veterans have requested to receive care using Choice,” according to the VA.
This week, the program got even better for rural veterans. The VA announced it will relax the requirements on the distance a patient must live from a VA facility before the government will pay for alternative care. Previously, a patient had to live 40 miles from a VA facility as the crow flies to qualify for access to closer private facilities, an issue that affected numerous veterans in our district. The new guidelines, however, will consider the actual driving distance, meaning veterans will be able to utilize more options for care. This is huge news, not only for veterans in Missouri’s 8th Congressional District, but all across rural America.
These improvements to the entire Department of Veterans Affairs could not come soon enough. In an audit released last summer, the Veterans Affairs St. Louis system was ranked 136 out of 141 health systems nationally, the fifth worst in the country.
The VA’s $168 billion budget has nearly tripled since 2001, but additional funding has not translated into improved care. That is why I voted for the Veterans Affairs Budget Planning Reform Act of 2015 this week. This bill would provide veterans and taxpayers more accountability and transparency from the VA when it comes to how the department plans to utilize its resources. We can all agree that accountability and transparency are two values that are sorely needed at the department.
We owe America’s veterans our undying gratitude, and this effort to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs and improve the care our veterans receive will continue. If you or someone you know is having trouble getting care through the VA, please contact my office for help navigating the system. The men and women of our military have enough to worry about when they are deployed. Their health care should be the least of their worries when they return.