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Bill: Help more blind, disabled vets get to VA

Mar. 22, 2013 - 03:56PM   |  
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The Veterans Affairs Department should do a better job of helping blind and severely disabled veterans reach their medical appointments, say two House Democrats who have written a bill that would require VA to broaden its rules on paying for transportation for veterans.

Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., and Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, introduced a bill Wednesday that would extend travel benefits to veterans with severe vision impairment or mobility problems related to spine injuries or multiple amputations, even if those conditions are not service-connected, if the veterans are receiving in-patient or specialty care under certain VA programs.

VA covers transportation costs for veterans who need medical care for service-connected injuries. The proposed legislation, the Veterans Medical Access Act, H.R. 1284, would expand this benefit to those cared for under the VA’s special disabilities rehabilitation programs.

“Too often, blind and catastrophically disabled veterans choose not to travel to VA medical centers for care because they can’t afford the costs associated with the travel,” Brownley said. “That is unacceptable,”

The bill also would require VA to provide a full report on its beneficiary travel program, including costs and number of veterans helped.

The task of getting veterans who can’t drive themselves to medical appointments often is left to national, state and local volunteer organizations. VA itself runs a volunteer transportation network effort, as does Disabled American Veterans. Other groups that provide transit in many communities are the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, a nationwide initiative of volunteers over age 55, and the American Red Cross.

Still, some veterans have problems getting to their appointments, lawmakers said.

“No veteran should be deterred from seeking needed medical care at a VA facility due to travel constraints,” said Michaud, ranking Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Providing ready access to health care is a critical part of living up to our nation’s shared commitment to all who’ve served.”

The bill does not include a cost estimate; if approved, the benefit would be paid for by VA appropriations.

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