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Kirkpatrick bill would help rural veterans access mental health care
WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., has introduced a bill that would strengthen mental health services for rural veterans and their families. About 6.1 million veterans live in rural communities, according to federal estimates. Arizona’s mostly rural Congressional District One has more than 65,000 veterans.

“Simply because of where they live, rural veterans may lack access to quality mental healthcare through VA,” said Kirkpatrick, a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “These men and women have served our country, often in dangerous, faraway places, so it’s our duty to ensure they can get quality care when they come home.”

Kirkpatrick’s bill, the Rural Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, is the companion legislation to Montana Sen. Jon Tester’s bill, S. 1155.

“Too many veterans return from the battlefield with unseen wounds like PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury,” said Tester, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “This bill will expand the reach of mental health professionals in rural areas so more veterans get the care they need no matter where they live. I appreciate Congresswoman Kirkpatrick’s commitment to improving veterans’ mental health care and look forward to working with her to pass our bill into law.”

On Wednesday, Kirkpatrick is meeting with top VA officials to discuss her legislation and the challenges in rural areas, such as a lack of local mental health care professionals, funding restrictions that hinder information technology systems and medical equipment, and an inability to use telemedicine services for a variety of reasons.

Kirkpatrick’s bill would:

· Include licensed professional mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists as participating professions in the VA’s flagship recruitment program, the VA Office of Academic Affiliations’ Health Professionals Trainee Program. This would allow VA to cultivate its mental health workforce in rural areas where such services are often scarce.

· Provide VA with flexibility to include critical IT funding in advanced appropriations that would provide for the timely replacement of medical equipment and allow the development of medical information systems to continue without interruption.

· Strengthen language authorizing VA to provide mental health services and support to immediate family members of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and are readjusting to civilian life.

· Require the VA to identify and report to Congress on issues that may be impeding the provision of telemedicine services to veterans, and to identify steps to address these issues.

Kirkpatrick has prioritized veterans’ issues on behalf of Arizona’s more than half-million veterans. Her first piece of legislation to pass the 113th Congress was VA CORE, which will help tackle the massive VA claims backlog. That legislative victory built on her veterans-related accomplishments from the 111th Congress, when she was able to pass legislation that helped Native American, rural and disabled veterans with critical issues such as housing access and cost-of-living adjustments.

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