Tester introduces Rural Veterans Healthcare Improvement Act of 2007

Bipartisan bill improves access to health care for Montana vets

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester today helped introduce a bipartisan measure that improves access to healthcare for veterans in rural states like Montana.

The Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act of 2007 requires the U.S. Veterans Administration to improve services including transportation for disabled vets, research and partnerships with small communities.

"Our veterans deserve access to the quality, affordable health care they were promised when they signed up to defend our country.  This legislation paves the way to better accessibility for our vets, and I'm proud to stand behind it," Tester said. "One out of every ten folks in Montana served in our Armed Forces.  We need to guarantee them the same access to health care that vets in bigger cities have."

"This legislation is sorely needed," said Montana Senator Max Baucus, who is a cosponsor of the bill. "Jon Tester has emerged as a strong voice for veterans in the U.S. Senate and I'm going to fight alongside him to get this bill passed."

Tester, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, sponsored the legislation with Senators Ken Salazar, D-Colo., and John Thune, R-S.D.

The Rural Veterans Healthcare Improvement Act of 2007:

  • Requires the VA to work with rural hospitals and clinics, the Indian Health Service     and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in developing new     veterans' health care projects.
  • Identifies VA medical centers that research ways to improve health care.
  • Requires the VA to tell Congress about how to improve fee-basis health care for     rural veterans.
  • Creates the VetsRide program, which provides grants of up to $50,000 to     organizations that help disabled vets travel to medical centers.

"Across Colorado, I have heard stories of veterans braving three and four hour drives on winding mountain roads to reach the VA hospital in Grand Junction, or traveling 500 miles roundtrip for a simple blood test.  I wish I could say these are just isolated circumstances, but they are not: Every day, veterans from rural communities across Colorado are forced to put off crucial treatment because they live too far from VA facilities and can't get the care they need. That is just not acceptable," Salazar said. "Rural veterans fought just as hard for our country as those in more urban areas, and they should have direct access to the same quality care. This proposal will help the VA take another step down the path to improved care for rural veterans."

"As Americans, it is our duty to ensure our veterans are getting the best in benefits and care. After all of the sacrifices veterans have made for our safety, freedom and well-being, the last thing they should have to worry about is whether or not they'll be able to get the important health care they need," Thune said. "For decades, rural veterans have suffered a major disadvantage when it comes to health care, due to the long distances and travel expenses associated with their doctor and hospital visits. As a sequel to the successful effort Senator Salazar and I made last year to create the first-ever Office of Rural Health in the VA, this legislation will further improve access to quality health care for rural veterans across the country."

The Salazar-Thune-Tester Rural Veterans Healthcare Improvement Act of 2007 will now go to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs for consideration.

Tester recently announced his Disabled Veterans Fairness Act of 2007, which increases the reimbursement rate for vets who travel to VA hospitals from 11 cents per mile to 48.5 cents per mile.