Recent Press Releases

Washington, D.C. —  Nationwide, nearly one in four veterans live in a rural community. Despite this, a 2004 study by the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) found that veterans living in rural areas are in poorer health than their urban counterparts. Last year, in response to the unfair disparity, United States Senators Ken Salazar (D-CO) and John Thune (R-SD) led a bipartisan effort to successfully create the Office of Rural Health in the VA, which will ensure the Department maintains a specialized focus on the unique challenges facing rural veterans. Today, Senator Salazar and Senator Thune, along with Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) took the next step forward in improving VA care for veterans in rural communities by introducing the Rural Veterans Healthcare Improvement Act of 2007.

"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."

"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," said Senator Salazar. "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."

"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," said Senator Tester, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. "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."

Building on last year's successful creation the Office of Rural Health in the VA, the Salazar-Thune-Tester Rural Veterans Healthcare Improvement Act of 2007 would increase rural veterans' access to health care through:
  • Innovation to Improve Rural Care Availability: Innovative veterans health care projects are frequently centered in large urban areas inaccessible to rural veterans. The Salazar-Thune-Tester proposal would require the VA to explore innovative partnerships at critical access hospitals and community health centers with Medicare, Medicaid and the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as the Indian Health Service.

  • Harnessing America's Academic Power to Improve Rural Care: In order to protect the importance of rural veterans' in the VA's priorities, the Salazar-Thune-Tester proposal would establish up to five "Centers of Excellence" at VA medical centers with strong academic connections to research ways to improve care for rural veterans.

  • Ensuring Quality Care is Delivered: Under the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006, the VA was required to assess its fee-basis healthcare program to find ways of improving healthcare access for rural veterans. The Salazar-Thune-Tester proposal would require the VA to transmit the results of this assessment to Congress with the agency's recommendations for how to improve fee-basis healthcare for rural veterans.
  • Better Transportation Options: Veterans in rural communities frequently face long and expensive travel to reach the nearest VA health care clinics. The Salazar-Thune-Tester proposal would create the VetsRide program, which will 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. In addition, Senator Salazar's proposal will improve reimbursement rates for veterans for their travel expenses related to VA medical care by increasing it from 11 cents per mile to 48.5 cents per mile - the same rate paid to federal employees.

The Salazar-Thune-Tester Rural Veterans Healthcare Improvement Act of 2007 will now go to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs for consideration. The bill has 14 additional cosponsors, including Senators Baucus (D-MT), Bingaman (D-NM), Burr (R-NC), Collins (R-ME), Dorgan (D-ND), Enzi (R-WY), Grassley (R-IA), Kerry (D-MA), Lincoln (D-AR), Murray (D-WA), Pryor (D-AR), Snowe (R-ME), Smith (R-OR), and Wyden (D-OR).