Tester, Moran Champion Bipartisan Bill to Improve Rural Veterans’ Access to Medical Disability Examinations

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee leaders introduce legislation to enhance transparency of the medical disability examination program and to revamp how VA delivers exams to rural and housebound veterans

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) are championing bipartisan legislation to improve rural veterans’ access to medical disability examinations.

Geography or mobility issues often limit rural and housebound veterans’ access to quality and timely medical disability examinations. The Senators’ Reform and Update Rural Access to Local (RURAL) Exams Act of 2021 aims to address this inequity by increasing transparency of the medical disability examination program and authorizing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to offer contract examiners incentives to provide better service to rural and housebound veterans.

“A veteran’s medical disability exam can make or break a compensation claim, but far too many veterans living in rural states like Montana aren’t getting a fair shake simply because of their zip code,” said Chairman Tester. “Our bipartisan bill offers commonsense solutions that’ll increase transparency, service veterans in hard-to-reach areas, and ensure timelier access to earned benefits.”

“Obtaining a medical disability examination is often the first step in a veteran’s disability claim process to ultimately receive benefits through the VA,” said Ranking Member Moran. “Access to health care examinations is often limited in rural communities, which is why Senator Tester and I introduced this legislation to help create incentives for medical examiners to provide this essential service to rural veterans.”

“Compensation and Pension (C&P) exams are a critical part of the VA disability claims process,” said Kristina Keenan, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) National Legislative Service Associate Director. “The VFW supports the RURAL Exams Act of 2021 which would improve data collection of C&P exams to better track timeliness, quality, and veteran satisfaction. The VFW believes this information is vital to better understand the quality of both VA and contract exams in all parts of the country. It would also provide performance-based incentives for contractors to provide high quality exams in rural areas and would require inspections of contractor facilities to ensure exams are conducted in safe and appropriate locations. The VFW thanks Senators Tester and Moran for bringing focus to this important issue.”

“AMVETS supports the RURAL Exams Act,” said Joseph Chenelly, AMVETS Executive Director. “According to VA, almost a quarter of all veterans in the United States, 4.7 million veterans, reside in rural communities. We are pleased that Senators Tester and Moran have introduced legislation that will require the VA to report how they intend to improve rural access to medical disability exams. It is our hope that upon passage of this bill, rural veterans will enjoy easier access to timely and quality medical disability exams without raising the cost for veterans.”

“One out of every three veterans treated by VA lives in rural communities. However, rural veterans continue to be underserved due to a lack of access to adequate VA services, care, and benefits because of their inability to travel extraordinarily long distances,” said Paul E. Dillard, The American Legion National Commander. “The RURAL Exams Act of 2021 would remedy this issue by improving rural veterans’ access to VA-contracted medical examiners who conduct C&P exams as part of the VA disability claim process. It would authorize VA to give specific performance-based incentives to encourage contractors to offer better exams for rural and housebound veterans. The American Legion is pleased to support this legislation and we thank Chairman Tester and Ranking Member Moran for their hard work in ensuring rural veterans receive timely and high-quality consideration and treatment throughout their disability exam process.”

“We commend Senator Tester on his leadership in crafting bipartisan legislation to improve health care to veterans in rural Montana,” said Shelly R. Fyant, Tribal Council Chairwoman, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation. “All too often veterans in rural areas, like Montana’s Indian Reservations, are burdened with traveling long distances with limited resources. Senator Tester and Senator Moran’s RURAL Exams Act will address the needless hurdles faced by rural and homebound veterans.”

“Montana is home to an extraordinary number of veterans from all of this country’s recent military engagements. Many Montanans volunteer for such service, and many veterans from other locations eventually end up moving to Montana for any number of reasons important to them,” said L.D. Gross, Secretary of the Veterans Coalition of Northwest Montana. “[The Veterans Coalition of Northwest Montana] feel[s] this proposed legislation will provide significant assistance in helping rural veterans get and enjoy the helping hand the VA and America can give them.”

“I would like to take this time to say I support Senator Tester and Senator Moran’s Rural Exams Act of 2021,” said Leo Pollock, Blackfeet Veterans Alliance Administrator. “I feel this bill would be a vast improvement for our Native American Veterans and all other Rural Montana Veterans who oftentimes live up to three hours away from access to any type of care.”

“As a rural veteran, I understand how difficult it is to get timely and quality disability examinations,” said Lee Fretwell, Kalispell VFW Post 2252. “I welcome Senator Tester’s bipartisan bill, which should help rural and housebound veterans get better exams for the benefits they deserve.”

The Rural Exams Act would improve rural veterans’ access to medical disability examinations by:

  • Improving data collection by VA on covered medical disability examinations and requiring the Department to publish medical disability examination performance data;
  • Requiring the Department to report annually on how it intends to improve rural access to exams;
  • Authorizing the Department to offer specific, performance-based incentives to encourage contractors to offer better exams for rural and housebound veterans; and
  • Requiring the Department to perform annual inspections of medical disability examinations locations to ensure all exams are safe, clean, accessible, and dignified.

Full text of the Senators’ Rural Exams Act can be found HERE.