Our Veterans, and their families, answered the ultimate call of duty to protect our freedoms and special way of life. Honoring their service is one of the greatest responsibilities for members of Congress.
When service members return to civilian life, it is imperative that they receive excellent and timely health care. They have served our great nation with honor, and we must fulfill our promise to them.
Since being sworn in as Maine’s Second Congressional District Representative, I have supported several bills, such as the Hire More Heroes Act. I also voted in support of the FY16 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriation bill to increase VA funding by $904 million more than the previous year, while improving the Department’s ability to better serve our veterans.
But there is much more Congress must do to help ensure our Veterans, and their families, receive the health care they were promised, earned and deserve. This is why I recently introduced the Helping Our Rural Veterans Receive Health Care Act.
Of the nearly 22 million Veterans in the United States, 40 percent live in rural areas. This results in a significant population of Veterans having limited access to health care due to long travel times to VA facilities in their home states.
In response to this, in 2011, Congress appropriated funds for a pilot program under the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, known as Project ARCH (Access Received Closer to Home). This program selected five hospitals in rural areas across the United States to enter into contracts with the VA so that eligible Veterans could receive care closer to home. One of the chosen sites was Cary Medical Center in Caribou. This program has proven to be a huge success in Caribou and at the other four sites.
The ARCH program received bipartisan support and has exceeded the expectations of rural Veterans and their families whose needs often require immediate attention. The pilot program has also significantly reduced the average waiting time of care from 90 days to 30 days at each of the designated sites. In Maine alone, over 10,000 Veterans have benefitted from the program’s accessibility.
The Helping Our Rural Veterans Receive Health Care bill would make this pilot program permanent and expand it to eligible Veterans across the country by allowing hospitals to enter into pre-negotiated contracts with the VA to provide care to our Veterans. In a time when so many VA programs have come under scrutiny for mismanagement, this unique program is a successful and common sense solution to ensure our rural Veterans in Maine receive the health care they were promised.
These reforms are important to our Veterans and their families living in rural areas. By creating an efficient benefits network that reduces waiting time, offers high quality care, and is easily accessible, this bill is our way of expressing gratitude for our Veterans’ service to this country and fulfilling the promises we have made to them.
As Maine’s Second District Congressman, I will continue to support bills that will help ensure our Veterans, and their families, receive the benefits and health care they were promised, earned and deserve.