Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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November 13, 2012

Still fighting for veterans outpatient clinic

Our veterans deserve a nearby VA health clinic and I am exploring every option to get one.

In our region, especially in Mercer and McDowell Counties, having to travel long distances to Beckley and across the border into Virginia can create insurmountable hurdles for veterans seeking quality health care. The VA’s own geographic needs assessment recently noted that, because veterans in our area must drive further than 30 minutes to access primary care, VISN 6 does not meet the VA’s access standard for primary care.

I understand the frustrations of our veterans and I continue to convey those sentiments at every opportunity to top VA officials. I have been communicating directly with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the head of the VA Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network (VISN 6) and have pressed VA officials repeatedly on this matter.

What’s encouraging is that VA officials continue to acknowledge there is a need to strengthen access to care for our region’s veterans. In fact, as part of the last two VA budgets that were passed by the House of Representatives, I was successful in including a provision that encourages the VA to continue to assess the needs of underserved areas, like those in Mercer County.

Recognizing the limited budgetary resources with which the VA is attempting to provide quality service to veterans across the country, I am encouraging the VA to do everything possible to improve and expand access to health care by offering mobile health services, home-based primary care, telemedicine, and other enhanced home-based services in underserved areas of the region. At my request, the VA is exploring ways to collaborate with local community facilities in offering health care services, so that veterans have access to care at a location that is close by, which will cut down on travel time and spare them added stress.

The VA has emphasized that telemedicine is just one of several options being explored to better utilize the medical resources of the VA Medical Center in Beckley and to work in conjunction with local health providers. Telemedicine is already being used by top medical facilities around the world to provide patients with immediate access to outstanding medical specialists and I believe veterans should not be denied an opportunity to benefit from this growing use of cutting-edge technology to receive the best health care that modern medicine can provide.

The challenge to expanding health care services is the current budgetary environment in Washington, which is made worse by budgets put forward by the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives.

I believe our veterans deserve more, not less, care. But the leadership in the Republican Party, which controls the House, aims to further cut the funds available to improve and expand access to veterans health care. I do not agree with that approach, and we will work with the rank and file membership of both parties to secure all the votes we can get in the House to oppose such an agenda of cutting funding for vital programs, including veterans programs.

Such an agenda undercuts our duty to those who served in harm’s way and serves to block the VA from expanding health services and opening new health care facilities, like the one we seek for Mercer County.

I am proud of the activism in Mercer County by our veterans, who are drawing the proper attention to the need for a clinic and other issues. I also commend the VA staff and health professionals in our region for the work they are doing in caring for the men and women who have sacrificed so much for our nation.

Getting increased health care services for area veterans is a long-term effort. And, given the massive funding cuts confronting our government now, it is a real uphill battle, but one that I believe we can make progress on, as long as we continue fighting together.

To be sure, there is no substitute for an outpatient clinic in Mercer County. I will continue to advocate one and work to help improve and expand access to health care services for veterans who have served and sacrificed in behalf of our nation and the state of West Virginia. We owe them so much and we must honor that solemn debt.

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.

U.S. House of Representatives

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