Bill could establish closer care for vets

McInnis sponsors legislation to provide veterans with more health care options

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Moffat County veterans may be spared the burden of traveling long distances to receive medical care from the state's far-flung Veteran's Affairs hospitals, according to a bill introduced recently by U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis.

Called the "Help Establish Access to Local Timely Healthcare for Your Local Vets" or HEALTHY Vets Act, the legislation aims to offer local veterans medical care closer to home.

"This will allow the VA hospitals to contract with local health care providers," said McInnis' Press Secretary Blair Jones. "This is a growing concern for all veterans. It's a way to relieve some of the problems veterans have getting health care."

Some Moffat County veterans travel up to 400 miles round trip to make medical appointments at VA hospitals in Grand Junction or Denver.

A transportation service is available for Moffat and Routt county veterans. But the journey is excessive to many, especially aging veterans who need simple procedures like a blood test, said Bill Harding Moffat County's Veteran Service Officer.

"When a doctor sees you in the waiting room they don't see the hardship it took to get you there," he said. "Sometimes veterans won't bother to see a doctor because of the hassle it takes to make the trip."

Veterans living in sparsely populated areas and who are more than 75 miles away from the nearest Department of Health care facility would be eligible for medical assistance, under the HEALTHY Vets Act.

Veterans could be offered the fee-based services through existing facilities such as The Memorial Hospital or through other health care providers.

The community would support the effort, said Marilyn Bouldin director of the nursing program at Colorado Northwestern Community College.

"We are absolutely in support of this," she said. "It could be another clinical for us. I really think vets should get care in a timely fashion without having to drive so far."

Already 25 co-sponsors, including U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado's 4th Congressional District, have expressed support for the measure that McInnis formally introduced earlier this month.

The lack of convenient medical care has long been a point of contention with rural veterans, Harding said.

About 1,700 veterans live in Moffat County.

Many feel "discriminated against" because they can't access the health care they were promised when they signed up for military service, he said.

"There's an indifference to vet's issues," Harding said.

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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