Our brave veterans wore the uniform of this country to defend our freedoms, and they deserve nothing less than world-class healthcare when they return. But for veterans in rural communities, getting the health care they deserve may require them to drive long distances, miss days of work, or leave a child or spouse behind. Because I serve on the Health Subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, I’m always seeking ways to improve healthcare delivery for our veterans. One of my priorities is to close the gap between our veterans and the health care they have earned.
Over the Memorial Day recess last week, I traveled to Salem, Franklin County, Danville, and Nelson County visiting veterans’ healthcare facilities. I also met with veterans from 15 counties in the district to gather ideas about how we can improve health care access in our rural communities. I brought these suggestions to my Veterans Advisory Board, which includes those who have served in a variety of wars and all of the armed services. Next week, I will take these ideas back to Washington to advance a number of legislative initiatives to give rural veterans more options for accessing healthcare.
Expanding telemedicine and home visits by nurses and health aides: Today’s technology can allow more and more care to be provided to veterans without them having to ever leave their home. Telemedicine employs small computer units, cameras, and other medical monitoring devices that allow top-notch nurses and doctors in our VA hospitals to be virtually present inside the home. These devices connect directly from the veteran’s home to the doctor’s office via a telecommunications network, allowing them to provide care more quickly and efficiently. The VA has gotten very positive feedback from veterans during test runs with this technology, and my Veterans Advisory Board also felt like this is a promising avenue to pursue. Telemedicine can provide better care, particularly for those with chronic diseases or pain management needs, and the technology saves money over time by reducing transportation costs and emergency room visits.
Increasing access to care at Community Based Outpatient Clinics: I visited the Danville Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) and heard very positive feedback from veterans about having this facility in the community. I want to look for more options to expand primary care access within our communities, including through our Community Health Centers (CHCs) that help provide quality care in our more rural areas. Community Based Outpatient Clinics were created in the mid-1990s to provide primary care to veterans in places that were not served by a VA medical center. Both kinds of facilities can be important resources for veterans in rural areas to access primary care.
Assisting veterans with transportation to medical facilities: While the VA’s medical centers and outpatient clinics provide excellent care to veterans, many veterans living in rural areas never have the opportunity to take advantage of this world-class care because of the need to travel long distances. While VA’s current mileage reimbursement program has shown promise, it does little for those veterans who, due to age or financial constraints, simply do not have access to transportation. Many of our veterans service organizations have been working hard to meet the ever-increasing transportation needs of our veterans by providing van service to VA medical facilities. Moving forward, we will explore ways to provide increased transportation benefits for veterans to help offset travel costs, particularly as the price of gas is rising.
If you are a veteran or know a veteran who has questions, suggestions or issues with your benefits, please call our office at 888.4.TOM4US (888.486.6487). You may also write to 1520 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20515; or visit www.perriello.house.gov to sign up for my weekly e-newsletter.
Tom Perriello represents the Fifth District in the U.S. House of Representatives.