Recent Press Releases

Washington, DC —  Senator John Thune joined a bipartisan group of his colleagues in sending a letter to fellow Senators urging them to cosponsor the Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act (S.658). This legislation would expand access to medical care for veterans who live far from Veterans Administration (VA) facilities. Senator Thune is the lead Republican cosponsor of the bill.

“The men and women who have given so much in service to our nation should not be deprived of access to medical care based on the distance they live from a VA hospital or other facility,” said Thune. “This bill would ensure veterans receive fair reimbursement for travel to and from VA facilities, create more transportation options for rural veterans, and explore ways to improve the delivery of health services to rural veterans.

“I am proud that this legislation enjoys the support of many veterans groups. I urge my colleagues to support this important bill as a way to honor our commitment to veterans in appreciation for their sacrifice.”

In addition to supporting the transportation needs of veterans, the Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act will authorize the VA to conduct demonstration projects for expanding rural veteran care. The bill would also establish an Indian Health Coordinator in each of 10 VA medical centers that serve large numbers of Native American Veterans.

Senator Thune is joined in sending the letter by Jon Tester (D-MT) and Mark Begich (D-AK). The text of the letter follows:

April 23, 2009

Dear Colleague:

We invite you to join us in cosponsoring the bipartisan Rural Veterans Healthcare Improvement Act of 2009. This important measure will provide new avenues for the VA to provide care to ALL our veterans by creating innovative new ways of reaching those veterans who live far from VA facilities. Our veterans have earned the right to care at the VA by virtue of their service to our Nation. This right should not be solely dependent on where the veteran lives.
    In particular, this legislation will:
  • Permanently set the rate of reimbursement for disabled veterans (30% and above) traveling to and from a VA facility at the FY 2009 rate of 41.5 cents per mile. Although this year’s level is 41.5 cents per mile, the authorized level is only 28.5 cents per mile.
  • Authorize transportation grants for Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) to provide better transportation service in rural areas.
  • Establish Centers of Excellence for rural health research and education, looking at ways to improve delivery of health care to rural veterans.
  • Authorize the VA to conduct demonstration projects on alternatives for expanding care for veterans in rural areas. The VA is directed to report within 2 years of enactment on the implementation of this section. This section contains a $350 million authorization. The FY 2009 MilCon-VA appropriations bill provided $250 million to the VA to carry-out rural veterans’ health care demonstration projects.
  • Improve care for Native American veterans. The bill establishes the position of an Indian Health Coordinator in each of the 10 VA Medical Centers that have the highest per capita catchment of eligible Native American veterans. The bill also directs the VA and IHS to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding to ensure that the health records of Native Americans may be transferred interchangeably, as well as look at the feasibility and efficacy of establishing joint health clinics with the IHS on Tribal Reservations.
  • Authorize the VA to contract for mental health services for recent veterans. This provision gives the VA clear authority to contract-out mental health services for OIF/OEF veterans in rural areas, where mental health providers are at a premium. There is a significant need for mental health providers throughout rural America, and the VA and private practice often find themselves competing for the same pool of prospective employees. This section helps avoid that conflict in rural America by granting the VA the ability to provide these services in concert – not competition – with local providers. The section is not intended to replace the VA as a mental health provider for veterans, but rather to address a practical need in rural America.
Our bill is endorsed by the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the Enlisted Association of National Guardsmen of the United States, The Retired Enlisted Association, and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. We hope that you will join us in this important effort to improve the quality of life for rural veterans.


Jon Tester
John Thune
Mark Begich