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Sen. Udall Targets Better Care for Veterans in Rural NM

PHOTO: Veterans in rural New Mexico may get better access to VA services if a new bill co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Tom Udall makes its way through Congress. Photo courtesy Sen. Udall's office.
PHOTO: Veterans in rural New Mexico may get better access to VA services if a new bill co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Tom Udall makes its way through Congress. Photo courtesy Sen. Udall's office.
February 12, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. - U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., is co-sponsoring a bill that could improve access to health services for veterans living in rural areas.

Udall spokeswoman Jennifer Talhelm said the "Rural Veterans Improvement Act" would benefit the estimated 6 million veterans who live in rural communities, partly by improving their transportation options to Veterans Administration facilities in urban areas.

"Having to drive in some cases hours to get to Albuquerque or other VA locations so that they can get care. And if you have a job or if you aren't able to drive yourself, it's a real hardship."

Talhelm cited reports of some veterans in New Mexico having to drive four hours or more to get to a VA hospital, and added that many rural veterans also are frustrated by their lack of health-care options and the frequent turnover among staff at local clinics.

The bill prioritizes improving rural VA facilities and working in some areas with non-VA providers. It also puts more focus on hiring and retaining employees at rural health-care facilities and beefing up mental-health resources for vets suffering the effects of wars in the Middle East, Talhelm said - “veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from what are, unfortunately, the signature wounds of those wars, PTSD and traumatic brain injury."

The Rural Veterans Improvement Act is co-sponsored by Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. Information about the bill from Udall’s office is online at tomudall.senate.gov.

Troy Wilde, Public News Service - NM