May 22, 2007

Wyden Follows up on Veterans' Concerns

Senator met with veterns, troops and families and toured VA facilities across Oregon in early April

Washington, DC - Following a series of meetings with Oregon veterans and their families, veterans' organizations and VA officials during the April Congressional recess, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden joined several colleagues today in introducing The Rural Veterans Healthcare Improvement Act of 2007, which addresses many of the concerns Wyden heard in his meetings.

"Too many Oregon veterans, especially in rural parts of our state, are having trouble accessing the health care they were promised when they agreed to serve our country," Wyden said. "We have a moral obligation to the men and women who have worn the uniform in defense of our nation."

The Rural Veterans Healthcare Improvement Act helps address one of the biggest concerns Wyden heard, namely that veterans in rural areas often face significant hurdles in traveling great distances for access to VA health care. The legislation would:

  • Increase reimbursements for veterans in rural areas for the traveling expenses they incur when driving long distances to VA medical facilities. It would reimburse veterans at the same rate paid to federal employees instead of the current — significantly lower — rate.

  • Create a transportation grant program to improve access and care for veterans living in rural and/or geographically remote areas. The program would provide grants of up to $50,000 to veterans' service organizations and State veterans' service officers to assist veterans with travel to VA medical centers and to improve healthcare access in remote rural areas.

  • Develop demonstration projects to expand care in rural areas through partnerships between the VA, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Department of Health and Human Services at critical access hospitals and community health centers.

The bipartisan legislation was introduced today by U.S. Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) and cosponsored by Wyden and U.S. Senators Max Baucus (D-MT), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Richard Burr (R-NC), Susan Collins (R-ME), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Michael Enzi (R-WY), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), John Kerry (D-MA), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Gordon Smith (R-OR), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Jon Tester (D-MT) and John Thune (R-SD).

In addition, Wyden has also recently cosponsored the following bills:

Lane Evans Veterans Health and Benefits Improvement Act (S. 117) — Establishes a system to track new veterans so that the VA can more efficiently budget and provide for veterans' care; extends the window for new veterans to receive VA mental health screening from the current 2 years to 5 years; requires face-to-face mental and physical health screenings 30-to-90 days after deployment to minimize the number of service members who fall through the cracks; provides each service member with his or her own secure electronic health and service record to facilitate the application for VA benefits and health care; and improves the transition assistance that National Guardsmen and military reservists receive when they return from deployment.

VA Hospital Quality Report Card Act of 2007 (S. 692) — Implements a Hospital Quality Report Card Initiative to report on health care quality in VA hospitals and requires published reports on VA hospital quality, including assessments of effectiveness, safety, timeliness, and efficiency.

Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act of 2007 (S. 713) — Establishes strict standards for the physical condition of military patient housing with frequent required inspections; streamlines the Physical Disability Evaluation System and allows the most severely injured service members to bypass unnecessary and lengthy steps; increases the number of caseworkers to assist recovering service members; and provides federal protections for the jobs of family members who are caring for recovering service members.

Veterans Navigator Act of 2007 (S. 882) — Provides federal grants to fund "navigators" to help veterans enter the VA system. The funding would build on existing programs run by Veterans Service Organizations (and others) and would allow them to expand these programs in response to increased demand from veterans returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Coming Together for Guard and Reserve Families Act (S. 902) — Authorizes the Secretary of Defense to expand the family assistance program to work with National Guard and Reserve families throughout the deployment cycle and to provide post-deployment follow-up and referrals with family members for mental health and family support issues.

Retired Pay Restoration Act of 2007 (S. 439) — Allows the receipt of both military retired pay and veterans' disability compensation for any service-connected disability.

Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007 (S. 22) — Expands the Montgomery GI Bill for members of the National Guard and reserves who serve on active duty in the Armed Forces on or after September 11, 2001.

"With these proposals, Congress has an opportunity to do right by our veterans and our troops," Wyden said. "I'll continue working to make these reform proposals a reality for our veterans and National Guard members."

Wyden is speaking with his colleagues about additional ways to address the issues he heard about at his April meetings and will also continue to look for other opportunities to assist veterans and returning members of the National Guard.