Routt County veterans could be spared an almost 400-mile round-trip drive to receive medical care under legislation proposed by Congressman Scott McInnis.
The Republican representative from Grand Junction introduced a bill Wednesday that would allow veterans in rural areas to receive basic medical care closer to home instead of traveling long distances to the nearest Veterans Affairs hospital. For Routt County's approximately 1,800 veterans, the legislation offers the chance to receive medical care at Yampa Valley Medical Center rather than traveling more than 190 miles to the VA hospital in Grand Junction.
"Throughout Colorado and rural America, these veterans are often forced to drive hundreds of miles to the nearest VA facility for relatively simple procedures and routine checkups," McInnis said in a prepared statement. "It just doesn't make sense to travel that far when he or she can receive a blood test or another basic medical procedure closer to home."
Routt County Veterans Affairs Officer Michael Condie said he has been campaigning for such legislation for years.
"These veterans are being discriminated against because they live in a rural area," Condie said. "A lot of the guys I'm working with are World War II and Korean guys. Driving those distances gets real hard on them."
Condie's office offers free transportation to the VA hospitals in Grand Junction and Denver, but many area veterans either are not aware the service is offered or schedule a doctor's appointment before learning when a shuttle is planned, Condie said.
That poses two problems: Veterans who aren't aware of the transportation either drive themselves or simply choose not to go to the doctor. And, veterans who set up appointments that don't coincide with scheduled transportation times mean Condie has to set up -- and find -- funding for extra shuttle trips.
"Getting guys down there one at a time is becoming cumbersome," Condie said. "The vets need to be calling me and asking when there is scheduled transportation prior to committing to appointment times. All these (extra) trips cost a lot of money."
Along with medical care, veterans must get their prescription medications through the VA hospital, Condie said. Those drugs can be mailed, but it requires veterans to plan at least 10 days ahead to avoid running out of medication before the refill arrives.
McInnis' bill -- "Help Establish Access to Locally Timely Health care for Your (HEALTHY) Vets Act" -- would alleviate the financial, logistical and personal strains of relying on a medical facility nearly 200 miles away. It would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to enter into contracts with community health providers, such as Yampa Valley Medical Center and The Memorial Hospital in Craig, to provide basic medical care and attention that veterans now receive at VA medical facilities.
"We're just really pleased that it looks like this is going to happen," said Yampa Valley Medical Center CEO Karl Gills. "Any time you can provide care closer to home, that's a good thing."
Under the bill, veterans living in sparsely populated rural areas more than 75 miles from the nearest VA hospital would be eligible to receive care from community providers.
"Rural veterans need help, and this bill will work to ensure that our nation lives up to its obligation to provide care and assistances to its many heroes," McInnis said.