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Friday, February 29, 2008

Illinois Action: Sauk Valley Veteran Feedback Sought Regarding New Area Medical Clinic

For many veterans, in rural areas especially, a trip to the local VA can be an irritating if not daunting, all-day affair.

As younger Afghanistan and Iraq vets stream home in need of -- at times specialized -- health care services in greater numbers, they join those in their area who've served in previous conflicts and continue to draw on their health care benefits.

Not surprisingly, the need for local VA medical clinics has grown by leaps and bounds. Veterans in my area of Illinois are no different, and they've been advocating for more easily accessible options closer to home.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

From the SaukValley News Editorial Board:

A proposed new medical clinic for Sauk Valley military veterans is a fantastic opportunity local residents should strongly support. As outlined by U.S. Rep. Phil Hare on a trip to Sterling earlier this week, the clinic could be situated in either Sterling or Rock Falls, saving veterans lengthy trips out of state.

Currently, veterans living in our region must travel to distant cities to receive care from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Some must drive or be transported as far west as Iowa City, about 110 miles away from our area. Others must go as far north as Madison, about 140 miles from us.

Hare, a Rock Island Democrat who just took over last month for his former boss, Lane Evans, wants to change all that. He has asked the House Veterans Affairs subcommittee to initiate the appropriations process to pay for a new clinic here.

Appearing at Monday's news conference with Hare was Ed Andersen, president and CEO of CGH Medical Center. It was to Andersen that a local veteran posed a question that sparked the medical clinic effort. The veteran asked why he had to drive all the way to Iowa City for a simple blood test.

That question got Andersen working toward a possible solution. He said the hospital is more than willing to cooperate with a veterans clinic, for instance, by offering services that the clinic might not be able to provide itself.

For his part, Hare said he is convinced there are enough veterans in the Sauk Valley to merit their own clinic. Based on U.S. Census figures for 2000, he's probably right. Whiteside County led the region with slightly more than 6,500 veterans. Ogle had more than 5,100 veterans, Bureau more than 3,800, Lee about 3,400 and Carroll more than 1,900, a total of almost 21,000.

Those figures are seven years old, however, so Hare said the first thing he needs to do is come up with a census of current veterans who would be interested in using a new clinic.

While Hare pursues this information through government channels, we think local veterans ought to give him a hand. We urge them to contact Hare's office with their names, addresses and comments of support for this important project.

Write to Hare at his district office: 1535 47th Avenue, #5, Moline, IL 61265; phone (309) 793-5760. [Hare's online contact information and form]

A new veterans clinic in the Sauk Valley will save local vets time, money and quite possibly their lives.

Medill Reports on Hare's move to fully fund VA benefits:

After erasing, changing, and perhaps skipping over answers on the Feb. 5 Illinois primary ballot, voters were overwhelmingly sure of their answer to one question.

More than 1 million voters in 23 counties throughout Illinois said yes to an advisory referendum calling for full and mandatory federal funding for veterans' health care. They were likely responding to reports about the difficulty veterans are having getting adequate medical care.

Federal funding is necessary to assure that veterans receive timely and fair benefits, says U.S. Rep. Phil Hare (D-Rock Island), a member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. Hare is the author and lead sponsor of a bill that would make health care for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs a mandatory spending item in the federal budget, like Social Security and Medicare.

Hare, who served six years in the Army Reserve, said the fact that the referendum passed by a vote of 90 percent or more in every county shows people in Illinois are pushing to compensate veterans. He hopes to see similar support in other states.

Hare talked this week about his fight for fair disability payments.

Q: How is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs affected by annual changes in the budget?
A: Basically, everything related to veteran’s health care is related to this. The VA doesn’t know how much they have to operate their health-care facilities. In simple language, it’s like a person trying to pay their home expenses and not knowing how much their paycheck is, so it’s difficult to operate.

Q: How much does the bill call for under mandatory funding?
A: We’ve had 11 years in a row where we haven’t gotten the necessary funding to the VA for health care. The department is the second largest federal agency, and it needs assured funding. We’re asking for funding equal to about 130 percent of the administration’s obligations, which can be adjusted annually based on the number of veterans served.

Q: Does the bill target a specific issue?
A: The president’s budget calls for $38 million in cuts for prosthetics and health-care research. We're going to restore those funds. But while we’re doing that, the VA is kind of languishing and saying, ‘while you guys are duking it out, what do we do?’

Q: Is local support for the bill any indicator of a nationwide push?
A: [It shows] we have public support for the bill. And we have about 150 co-sponsors. I hope to have a hearing pretty soon on the issue. We’ve also gotten support from every major veterans organization, and now we have the Secretary of Veterans Affairs open to talking about assured funding. We want to expand [the ballot question] to other states across the country, and get the referendum on the ballot for the November election to let members of Congress take a look at what people in their congressional districts and states are saying. If you see such high numbers of support in Illinois, I’m guessing you’ll see as much or even more support nationally.

Q: As a veteran yourself, do you have a personal investment in pushing this issue?
A: Yes, it is close to my heart. We’re going to have more veterans come into the system with the Gulf War and Iraq and Afghanistan. The bottom line is we’re going to have more people in need of veterans health care. But you can’t do it if you don’t have the money. The VA is supposed to be the veterans' advocate, not the veterans' adversary. Veterans have never asked for anything in return for their service except for what we’ve promised them.

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