A disproportionate number of the soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan come from the rural U.S., so it’s reasonable to assume that a disproportionate number of veterans will be living in rural communities for some time after these serve members complete their duties. In other words, rural America will be required to do an outsized job in helping veterans heal the wounds (physical and psychological) received in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s way it’s important to follow a bill sponsored by Montana Sen. Jon Tester that is aimed at improving the care given to vets living in rural areas.
(The VA appears to understand that the preponderance of vets in rural areas is a big problem. The agency just announced $215 million in new projects to deliver services to rural vets.
For instance, many rural vets live a long way from Veterans Administration facilities. Currently disabled vets are reimbursed a paltry 11 cents a mile when they travel to receive treatment. Tester’s bill would increase the reimbursement rate to 41.5 cents a mile. The bill would allow the VA to work with local groups to transport to faraway facilities and to treat vets in their hometowns. A large number of those in the military come from areas with large Native American populations, so Tester’s bill would establish Indian Health Coordinators in these communities.
Most important, perhaps, is Tester’s proposal to establish five centers of excellence across the country research how best to provide health care to rural veterans. These centers will be invaluable in learning how to best provide health care throughout all of rural America.