WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced a bill today to improve care for veterans in rural and remote communities. The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Mark Begich (D-AK) and Max Baucus (D-MT).
Chairman Akaka said: "Many veterans live in rural communities where they are less likely to have access to quality care for service-related injures and illnesses. This bill will better enable VA to overcome bureaucratic, geographic, and resource obstacles that currently impede rural veterans in their attempts to receive the high-quality care they earned through their service."
Senator Begich said: "Our commitment to our veterans has to be to provide them with the reliable, quality health care they were promised and deserve. Veterans in rural Alaska have more difficulty accessing those benefits, and this bill is designed to give the VA more latitude and resources to remove the barriers and burdens, specifically for those living in remote areas."
The Rural Veterans Health Care Access and Quality Act of 2009 would provide improvements in the following areas:
- Staffing: Improves VA’s ability to recruit and retain providers in rural communities by increasing educational loan repayment
- Quality: Strengthens quality control for contract and fee basis care by authorizing VA to pay incentives to rural health care providers who participate in certain accreditation and peer review activities
- Travel Benefits: Provides VA with the authority to reimburse air travel for veterans who travel from remote locations to receive VA care
- Speed: Allows VA to expedite approval for qualified counselors who volunteer to provide readjustment counseling for veterans and eligible family members in rural Vet Centers
Today’s introduction follows a hearing Akaka held last month on health care for rural veterans, which uncovered existing problems for veterans in small towns and remote locations.