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Begich Continues Push for Affordable Care for Rural Veterans

Legislation increases access to health care and benefits, cuts costs

Advancing efforts to provide veterans living in rural areas with improved accessibility to health care, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich applauded the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s recent approval of the Veterans Telehealth and Other Care Improvements Act of 2010. Authored by Sens. Begich and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the bill would eliminate copayments for veteran’s use of telehealth services.

Currently, more than 42,000 nationwide veterans are receiving care in their homes, through the VHA Telemedicine program. In Alaska, there are more than 220 veterans receiving this service, many in rural areas. While the VHA is saving taxpayer money by using telemedicine, some telemedicine visits require veterans to make a co-payment of roughly $50 per visit.

“This bill is one more step in improving access and reducing costs for Alaska veterans, especially those in rural areas, seeking health care,” Begich said. “Making this change and others in the bill will encourage the growth of our telehealth resources. Telehealth is a growing segment of health care that allows us to eliminate expensive and unnecessary plane flights and boat rides, along with their associated costs,  and gets veterans the care they need faster and cheaper.”

Increased reliance on telehealth services would save the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) money by reducing the costs of travel.

Approved on Thursday, August 5, the legislation is has several provisions improving VA care, including:

· Authorizing the Secretary to create an easy to use one-stop-shop website providing information on care, benefits and services for which veterans may be eligible;

· Developing a 5 year VA outreach program targeting veterans in economically distressed locations. The VA would be authorized to partner with federally charted regional commissions, including the Denali Commission;

· Increased training for and oversight of VA employees and contractors who use radioactive isotopes (utilized in several VA brachytherapy programs);

· Improving the multifamily transitional housing loan program by transitioning to a more flexible loan program;

· Requiring the Secretary to submit a report to Congress regarding the use of energy efficient technologies and best practices in VA medical facilities.

The Veterans’ Committee approved Begich’s legislation alongside six bills aimed to improve veterans’ care, extend educational assistance to veterans, increase certain rates of compensation and perform other needed adjustments to VA services and programs (press release attached). All legislation now requires approval from the full Senate.

“After months of work I hope we can pass this legislation by the end of the year,” Begich said. “I will be exploring all available legislative options to move this legislation and improve the care we deliver to our veterans.”

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