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Jaime Herrera Beutler Demands Better Care for Rural Veterans
VA’s mobile medical units -- supposed to serve rural veterans -- are sitting largely unused; U.S. House Appropriations Committee approves Herrera Beutler provision to get answers
Earlier this week, the House Appropriations Committee advanced a Herrera Beutler-authored provision to investigate why some mobile medical units that provide primary health care to rural veterans are sitting largely unused. Jaime’s provision seeks a full review and report within 90 days from the Office of the Inspector General on why these mobile units are falling short of their intended use.
Jaime’s provision was included in the Committee Report of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs funding bill for 2014, and was approved unanimously by Members of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee.
With more than 40% of the nation’s veterans living in rural areas, many have difficulties accessing health care at Department of Veteran Affairs (VA)-medical facilities located in larger cities, and even the smaller Community Based Outpatient Clinics. Currently, many veterans are forced to drive 50 miles or more to fill a prescription, get a flu shot, or have a blood sample drawn. In response, the VA purchased and operates eight mobile medical units across the country with the intention of providing more convenient primary care, mental health counseling and social work services in those remote communities.
However, in 2011 Jaime began learning that rural Southwest Washington communities were expecting visits from the American-Lake based mobile medical unit, but that those visits weren’t taking place. Inquiries by Jaime’s office revealed that the mobile medical unit was sitting unused for months at a time. She and her staff have worked with both regional and national VA offices to understand the challenges that exist and find solutions, but even now the unit is only being deployed about four days each month. The VA has admitted that other mobile medical units are also sitting greatly underutilized.
“For veterans living in rural areas of Southwest Washington, traveling to the American Lake VA in Tacoma, Vancouver, or even Chehalis for health care services is a time-consuming, costly and often physically exhausting undertaking,” said Nick Nikkila, Adjutant- American Legion Post 111 in Wahkiakum County. “This is especially true for disabled and elderly veterans. It’s unfortunate that a mobile medical unit has been sitting nearby, largely unused, when there is a clear need for care in rural areas. I would love to have the Mobile Medical Unit serve our community. I want to thank Jaime for caring about our veterans and bringing this issue before Congress.”
“Some veterans in Washington prefer to live in rural areas, where there are more trees than people,” said Hugh Fleet, a Navy Veteran living in South Bend. “I know of veterans with chronic conditions, mental health conditions like PTSD, who have to go a long way to get regular treatment. The farther they have to travel, the less likely they are to follow through with their care. My community could really benefit from a visit by the mobile medical unit and I am grateful Jaime is looking out for us.”
“Mobile medical units could be an incredible resource for our rural veterans, but only if they’re being used – and right now, they’re not,” said Jaime. “We owe it to the taxpayers who funded these units, and to our veterans who served and sacrificed for our country, to start utilizing these mobile medical units and bringing health care to our rural communities. Our federal government made a promise to help take care of the men and women who served in our military, and fixing this problem will help us keep that promise.”