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Sens. Franken, Boozman Renew Effort to Strengthen Health Care Access for Rural Vets

Senators’ Bill Would Help VA’s Office of Rural Health Provide Better Care to Rural Communities

Thursday, August 1, 2013

U.S. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) continued their push to support the men and women who have served our country by reintroducing a bipartisan bill that would improve access to health care services for veterans living in rural communities.

Right now, delivering quality health care to rural areas remains a challenge for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act, originally authored by Sen. Franken, would give VA's Office of Rural Health (ORH) the tools it needs to help veterans in rural communities get the care they need quickly and without traveling long distances.

"We have an obligation to support the men and women who served our nation-not just with our words, but also with our actions," said Sen. Franken. "Far too often, veterans living in Minnesota's rural communities run into roadblocks when it comes to getting quality health care. My bill will ensure that VA, through its Office of Rural Health, can plan for and manage the resources it has for rural areas so we can ensure our veterans get access to the care they've earned."

"Our veterans deserve quality access to health care no matter where they live. Congress is investing in outreach to rural areas through community based clinics but we still have room to improve the care our rural veterans have earned. This needs to be a priority and this legislation is a step in the right direction to improving access for our veterans in Arkansas and across the country," Sen. Boozman said.

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.

Sens. Franken and Boozman's legislation requires VA to develop a five-year strategic plan for the ORH within six months of enactment. 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.

The Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act was originally introduced by Sens. Franken and Boozman in the 112th Congress and was reported out of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. However, it did not receive a vote in the full Senate.

You can read a summary of this year's bill here.

 

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