Amarillo, TX - Area veterans who live in rural areas may soon see reimbursements for expenses when they need to travel long distances to medical appointments.
U.S. Congressman, Mac Thornberry is teaming up with lawmaker, (D-Wa) Rick Larsen to extend the Veterans Transportation Services Program by 5 more years, and also provide reimbursement to combat veterans having to travel.
The lawmakers are calling it The Rural Veterans Travel Enhancement Act of 2015. Although the Amarillo VA says they've made great strides to help rural area veterans, they understand the need.
"It's very important and we recognize that veterans can't get the care that they need unless we are able to assist and break down barriers to get them here," said Acting Business Office Chief for the Amarillo VA, Jennifer Kunkel.
Kunkel adds that veterans face numerous barriers in transportation... whether it be financial barriers or disabilities where they can't drive. "Access to health care does not just mean having enough doctors. It means making sure veterans can get to appointments with their doctors," said Larsen.
Between October of 2014 and March of 2015, Amarillo transported 6,047 veterans to their care and counseling appointments.
This proposed law was just proposed on Wednesday.
From the Office of U.S. Congressman Mac Thornberry
Thornberry, Larsen introduce bill to improve transportation options for rural veterans
WASHINGTON— U.S. Congressmen Mac Thornberry (R-Clarendon) and Rick Larsen (D-Everett) today introduced "The Rural Veterans Travel Enhancement Act of 2015," H.R. 2291, that would reauthorize the Veterans Transportation Services program for five years and provide mileage reimbursement for combat veterans traveling to receive counseling and care from veterans centers.
"We have a responsibility to the men and women who sacrificed so much for our nation with their selfless service," said Thornberry, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. "We will never know the full extent of their sacrifice, but we would not know freedom without it. That is why programs and legislation like this one are so important in our work to better serve them."
The Veterans Transportation Service program provides funding to local VA facilities to hire transportation coordinators and purchase vehicles that VA-trained staff can use to connect more veterans to the care they need. Amarillo transported 6,047 Veterans to appointments between Oct 1, 2104 and March 31, 2015. The program is a cost-effective way to help veterans access health care by saving money on ambulance costs and mileage reimbursements.
"Access to health care does not just mean having enough doctors. It means making sure veterans can get to appointments with their doctors. My bill will help break down travel barriers so veterans don't have to wonder how they will get to their next healthcare appointment," said Larsen, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee.
The Rural Veterans Travel Enhancement Act will:
Reauthorize for five years the Veterans Transportation Services program;
Provide mileage reimbursement for veterans traveling to receive counseling and care from Veterans Centers like the one in Amarillo; and
Reauthorize a grant program to provide transportation options to highly rural veterans seeking medical care.
A companion bill in the Senate was introduced by Sens. Jon Tester (R-MT) and Patty Murray (D-WA).
Thornberry's office is available to assist veterans who need help accessing resources. Call his Amarillo office at (806) 371-8844.