Salazar earmarks Northwest Colorado projects

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— U.S. military veteran Bill Harding has traveled to Grand Junction, driven some of his fellow soldiers there and is very thankful that U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., found some dollars to help veterans seek medical care.

"The veterans of Northwest Colorado appreciate all he's done for the guys up here and all the veterans in rural America," Harding said.

Harding referred to one of four earmarks Salazar put into the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008. He considered each one a strong priority for Northwest Colorado, Salazar Press Secretary Stephanie Valencia said.

The Appropriations Act is a large, diverse spending bill, essentially outlining the 2008 federal budget. President Bush signed the bill into law Thursday.

Among Salazar's earmarks was a provision to increase mileage reimbursement for veterans who travel for medical treatment.

The reimbursement rate previously was set at 11 cents per mile, and is raised to 28.5 cents per mile in the new bill.

The increase was overdue, Harding said, illustrated by the fact that civilians earn more than 40 cents per mile in tax credits for business trips.

"The 11 cents, it was a token, but with fuel prices and the long distances these guys have to travel, it was a drop in the bucket," Harding said.

Salazar also earmarked dollars for law enforcement, transportation and health care in Moffat and Routt counties.

The All Crimes Enforcement Unit, a drug taskforce serving both counties, received $89,300 to combat methamphetamine use.

"We greatly appreciate Sen. Salazar working hard to get us that funding and helping us keep up the fight," Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta said.

The Colorado Department of Transportation will receive $490,000, intended to supplement two projects on Highway 13 north of Craig to the Wyoming border.

One project is expected to begin in early 2008 and will see widened lanes and shoulders in addition to resurfacing and other safety improvements, such as guardrails.

That endeavor will begin at the state line and go south as far as the budget allows, said Nancy Shanks, CDOT Western Slope public relations director.

The other project is in the design stage and will install safety improvements along Highway 13 south to mile marker 111, Shanks said. That project is not expected to include widening the road or shoulders.

The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association based in Steamboat Springs will receive $119,000 that likely will be used for equipment and operations, VNA Executive Director Sue Birch said.

"Every bit helps, and we would be delighted to receive federal funds to continue our work around access to care in the area," Birch said.

One piece of equipment on the list is a spirometer, which is used to measure lung functions and can help physicians diagnose respiratory conditions such as asthma, Birch said.

But, most importantly, she said, the money will help the VNA continue to offer health care to residents with low income and/or no health insurance through the Northwest Colorado Community Health Center.

"There is research that shows people without health insurance do not seek out care," Birch said. "This (treating those patients) allows us to avoid unnecessary emergency room visits, hospitalizations or deaths that might result from someone not getting treatment."

The director was thankful Salazar could secure the funding.

"This is the first time in my 17 years I've seen this come through from a senator's leadership to receive direct federal dollars to a community health center in this part of the state," Birch said.

Salazar heard his constituents' voices and responded, his press secretary said. Next year, he will listen again and weigh which projects are most in need for 2009.

"He knows how important Highway 13 is to having a safe roadway, and also how important the VNA funding is so they can have the tools to help all the people they need to help," Valencia said. "These are projects and priorities that are very important to the senator.

"Next year, if they are projects that necessitate that kind of funding, if these communities express the need to have these projects funded in the future, the senator will take that into account but will have to weigh other projects that come up next year."

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