With Arkansas's rural veterans facing barriers to accessing timely and quality health care, U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln is fighting for legislative initiatives that will address their unique challenges.
"This Veterans Day, we are reminded that it is essential to do everything we can to provide for those who have served our country. My father and both grandfathers served our nation in uniform and taught me from an early age about the sacrifices our troops and their families make to keep our nation free. Those who have served our country in uniform should have access to the resources their service has earned, and I will continue to fight for them and their families," said Lincoln.
A report compiled by Lincoln's office and released today shows that most Arkansas veterans live in rural areas and are underserved by a Veterans Administration that is strapped for cash and coping with an increasing veterans claim backlog. Many veterans in Arkansas must travel more than 90 miles (180 miles roundtrip) to receive care. These veterans currently pay approximately $2.50 per gallon of gasoline in addition to other transportation costs including the costs of lodging, meals, and time off work.
Lincoln has helped introduce legislation that would permanently set the rate of reimbursement for disabled veterans traveling to and from a VA facility at a minimum of 41.5 cents per mile.
The legislation would also:
* Authorize transportation grants for Veterans Service Organizations to provide better transportation service in rural areas.
* Establish Centers of Excellence for rural health research and education that would examine ways to improve delivery of health care to rural veterans.
* Authorize the VA to conduct demonstration projects on alternatives for expanding care for veterans in rural areas.
* Authorize the VA to contract for mental health services for recent veterans. This provision grants the VA the ability to provide these services in concert, not competition, with local providers.
Read Senator Lincoln's veterans report.
To address the health care needs of veterans in Arkansas, Lincoln is:
Fighting to improve HEALTH CARE for servicemembers and veterans by:
* Providing the VA with the biggest funding increase in its history, which has allowed the VA to better meet its current and future challenges by making needed investments in quality health care, expanding access and improving delivery of care, and enhancing numerous benefits provided to the estimated 257,000 Arkansas veterans and their families.
* Securing timely funding for veterans' health care by providing funding for the Veterans Health Administration one-year in advance of the regular appropriations process. This advance funding will ensure that veterans' health care receives timely and predictable funding each and every year.
* Providing additional resources for the Veterans Benefits Administration to hire more disability claims processors, invest in new technologies and increase training resources so it can better meet its current workload and address its backlog of pending claims.
Fighting to improve ACCESS TO CARE for servicemembers and veterans by:
* Supporting the creation of the VA's Office of Rural Health, tasked with creating demonstration projects and centers of excellence to improve health care and expand access for veterans living in Arkansas and other rural areas of the country.
* Urging a mileage reimbursement rate increase for veterans traveling to receive VA care.
* Championing legislation to authorize transportation grants for Veterans Service Organizations to provide better transportation service in rural areas; to establish Centers of Excellence for rural health research and education; and to authorize the VA to conduct demonstration projects on alternatives for expanding care for veterans in rural areas.
* Expanding access to TRICARE and the VA for members of the National Guard and Reserves who have recently returned from service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
* Urging the creation of new Community-based Outpatient Clinics to reach more veterans in rural areas of Arkansas and other underserved areas of the country. In July of 2010, the VA will open a new CBOC in Ozark to serve more veterans in north-central and northwest Arkansas.
* Addressing a gap in health care coverage for reservists who have retired but are not yet 60 years old by allowing them to purchase TRICARE Standard health care coverage.
* Providing approximately $2.75 million this year toward programs in or around Arkansas to enhance access to mental health and substance use for returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and to expand telehealth services. This includes needed funding to expand a Texarkana-area project to utilize Home Based Primary Care to improve timely access to care for patients with complex medical needs living in rural areas of southwest Arkansas.
Fighting to ensure the VA is providing quality MENTAL HEALTH CARE for servicemembers and veterans by:
* Making needed investments in mental health care initiatives to ensure the VA has the capacity to deal with the increasing complexity and number of cases of Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
* Increasing training for military and VA health care professionals treating mental health issues and establishing a toll-free hotline for patients and their families to report problems with medical facilities or patient care.
* Directing the VA to contract with community mental health centers to provide treatment, support services and readjustment counseling in areas of Arkansas and other states where there is inadequate access to a VA medical center.