2:24 PM EDT

Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV 2nd

Mrs. CAPITO. Mr. Chairman, I rise today to offer a bipartisan amendment highlighting the importance and need for an Office of Rural Health within the Department of Veterans Affairs.

I'd like to commend the chairman and the ranking member for their good, solid, hard work on this bill and the tribute it pays to America's veterans. I would also like to thank Mr. Salazar of Colorado and Mr. Smith of Nebraska for their work on this bipartisan amendment.

I was pleased that language was included in the legislation that was signed into law by the President last year calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to create an Office of Rural Health within the Office of the Under Secretary for Health. However, the Department has yet to make any progress towards establishing this very important office.

This is a simple amendment that should encourage the Department to make the Office of Rural Health fully operational as expeditiously as possible, and provide them with the resources needed to do so by rerouting $5 million in the Medical Services Account to help fund the Office of Rural Health, thus making it revenue neutral.

Rural Americans face different and unique challenges than our fellow citizens who reside in urban and suburban areas, and this is no different for our veterans and their ability to seek the services and the treatments that they need. For some rural veterans, a simple trip to the doctor can often involve hours of travel to reach the appropriate facility within the veterans health facilities health system.

It is my hope that the Office of Rural Health will shed light on many of these challenges, and will be a resource with many new and creative ideas for methods to help our rural veterans receive their much-deserved benefits in a manner that is efficient, and allowing them to stay as close to home as possible.

One of the great challenges we are beginning to face is the number of servicemen and -women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who have sustained a traumatic brain injury. The Department of Veterans Affairs has four large polytrauma centers, in Richmond, Tampa, Minneapolis and Palo Alto, California. These facilities provide first-class treatment for veterans suffering polytrauma, and also provide inpatient rehabilitation services.

Despite the services provided at these facilities, many veterans will eventually return to their homes in the rural areas of America, but they will still need care and treatment. The Office of Rural Health will be the basis for new ways to provide rural veterans with polytrauma with the care that they need.

Another development within the Department of Veterans Affairs that has been going on for a while are the Community-Based Outpatient Clinics, or CBOCs. Often serving rural areas, CBOCs are a tremendous asset to the delivery of care for veterans, allowing them to seek treatment closer to their home. Unfortunately, underserved areas still remain in the rural areas. Again, the Office of Rural Health will be an excellent resource for new ways to provide primary outpatient care.

Mr. Chairman, I urge passage of this commonsense amendment so that the rural veterans concerns can be appropriately addressed.

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.

2:27 PM EDT

Chet Edwards, D-TX 17th

Mr. EDWARDS. Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the gentlelady for bringing to the attention of the House, once again, the importance of providing quality veterans care to the men and [Page: H6549]

women who served our Nation and happen to live in small, rural communities, areas perhaps in many cases far away from veterans hospitals. I think the community clinics have been one great, great addition to the VA health care system over the last 2 decades.

And let me point out, for the Record, before I will express that I will support this amendment, that Mr. Udall of New Mexico and Mr. Latham, in our full Appropriations Committee, added language on this issue which I know the gentlelady and I will both support; and it says this: ``The committee notes that the Public Law 109-461 directed the establishment of an Office of Rural Health within the Office of Under Secretary for Health. To date, after more than 6 months, there

has been no action taken to implement the provision regarding the Office of Rural Health. The Committee urges the Department to move forward in an expeditious manner.''

[Time: 14:30]

With that, I would like to express my support for the amendment.

2:27 PM EDT

Chet Edwards, D-TX 17th

Mr. EDWARDS. Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the gentlelady for bringing to the attention of the House, once again, the importance of providing quality veterans care to the men and [Page: H6549]

women who served our Nation and happen to live in small, rural communities, areas perhaps in many cases far away from veterans hospitals. I think the community clinics have been one great, great addition to the VA health care system over the last 2 decades.

And let me point out, for the Record, before I will express that I will support this amendment, that Mr. Udall of New Mexico and Mr. Latham, in our full Appropriations Committee, added language on this issue which I know the gentlelady and I will both support; and it says this: ``The committee notes that the Public Law 109-461 directed the establishment of an Office of Rural Health within the Office of Under Secretary for Health. To date, after more than 6 months, there

has been no action taken to implement the provision regarding the Office of Rural Health. The Committee urges the Department to move forward in an expeditious manner.''

[Time: 14:30]

With that, I would like to express my support for the amendment.

2:29 PM EDT

John Salazar, D-CO 3rd

Mr. SALAZAR. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentlewoman for yielding. And I would also like to thank the chairman of the committee for expressing his support for this amendment.

At the end of the 109th Congress, the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006 was signed into law. This legislation created the Office of Rural Health within the VA and tasked the office with conducting research into issues affecting rural veterans, as well as developing and refining policies and programs to improve care and services for rural veterans.

Unfortunately, as the chairman has clearly stated, since this legislation has been signed into law establishing the Office of Rural Health, no action has been taken. Just yesterday in the Veterans' Affairs Health Subcommittee, I asked the VA Under Secretary to give me an update, and he confirmed that as of this date a director has not even been hired yet.

This amendment would simply allocate $5 million from the same account within Medical Services to establish this office.

The care our Nation provides rural veterans in return for protecting our country should not suffer because some have chosen to live in rural America. We owe them no less for their sacrifice.

For the 25 percent of all veterans who live in rural areas, and the nearly 45 percent of all recruits coming from rural America, I urge you to strongly support this amendment, and I commend the chairman for supporting this amendment.

2:29 PM EDT

John Salazar, D-CO 3rd

Mr. SALAZAR. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentlewoman for yielding. And I would also like to thank the chairman of the committee for expressing his support for this amendment.

At the end of the 109th Congress, the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006 was signed into law. This legislation created the Office of Rural Health within the VA and tasked the office with conducting research into issues affecting rural veterans, as well as developing and refining policies and programs to improve care and services for rural veterans.

Unfortunately, as the chairman has clearly stated, since this legislation has been signed into law establishing the Office of Rural Health, no action has been taken. Just yesterday in the Veterans' Affairs Health Subcommittee, I asked the VA Under Secretary to give me an update, and he confirmed that as of this date a director has not even been hired yet.

This amendment would simply allocate $5 million from the same account within Medical Services to establish this office.

The care our Nation provides rural veterans in return for protecting our country should not suffer because some have chosen to live in rural America. We owe them no less for their sacrifice.

For the 25 percent of all veterans who live in rural areas, and the nearly 45 percent of all recruits coming from rural America, I urge you to strongly support this amendment, and I commend the chairman for supporting this amendment.