Veterans mental health bill affects Colorado

United States Sen. Ken Salazar recently hailed President Bush’s signing of the Veterans’ Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act of 2008 (S. 2162), bipartisan legislation that expands access to quality, affordable health care for military veterans, especially those with service-related disabilities, in Colorado and across the nation. 

Specifically, the bill authorizes $10 million in funding to expand health care services at the VA Clinic in Colorado Springs and $568 million in funding to begin construction on a state-of-the-art Veterans Hospital at Fitzsimons.  The bill also includes provisions drawn from S.1146, Sen. Salazar’s Rural Healthcare Improvement Act. 

Travel assistance

Additionally, the bill will help reduce the cost of healthcare-related travel for veterans across the nation, particularly those in rural areas, by reducing the deductible for VA mileage reimbursement from $15.44 to $6, roundtrip, and making permanent the increase in the VA’s healthcare-related mileage reimbursement rate for disabled veterans from 11 cents to 28 cents per mile.  

“This legislation will make health care more affordable and more accessible for rural veterans, boost the VA’s capacity to adequately meet mental health care needs, and move us one step closer to fulfilling the promise of a state-of-the-art, stand-alone veterans’ hospital at Fitzsimons,” said Sen. Salazar. 

“And for veterans in the Pikes Peak region, I am pleased this bill authorizes a significant increase in funding to improve the quality and scope of services available at the community-based outpatient clinic in Colorado Springs.  The Pikes Peak Region has contributed mightily to our nation’s military defense, and it is only appropriate that we provide veterans in the area, and their families, with services and benefits that adequately reflect the magnitude of their sacrifice.”

Highlights from S.2162, the Veterans’ Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act of 2008, include:

• Authorizatiuon of $10 million to expand the current VA clinic in Colorado Springs to include outpatient surgery (same-day surgery), specialty procedures, orthodontics, dental, gastrointestinal services, and bring healthcare closer to the veterans.  The new facility will also include collaboration with Fort Carson (DOD) so we can move closer to achieving a seamless transition for our active duty and veterans between the DOD and VA.

• Authorization of $568 million to finally get the Fitzsimons Veterans Hospital project underway.

• Language that clears title to a parcel of land on the Fitzsimons campus so that land acquisition by the VA can be completed and construction can begin on a stand-alone Veterans Hospital

• Cuts in the deductible disabled veterans have to pay before qualifying for mileage reimbursement from the VA from $15.44 per round trip to $6 per round trip when they travel for health care. 

• Making permanent the increase in the VA’s mileage reimbursement rate for disabled veterans who travel for health care from 11 cents to 28 cents per mile, as Sen. Salazar has been championing.

• Establishing a pilot program, based on a provision in Senator Salazar’s Rural Healthcare Improvement Act that expands peer outreach and support for veterans, use of community mental health centers and Indian health care facilities as mental health service centers for veterans, and readjustment counseling for veterans.

• Requiring the VA to reimburse hospitals that provide emergency care to veterans who have service-connected disabilities.

• Allowing families of veterans with mental health disabilities to receive basic mental health care, such as marital or family counseling.

• Creating a new program to help low-income veterans avoid homelessness.

DAV vans

The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization is running a VAHC Van from Durango on Tuesdays and Thursdays — call Mike Dunaway, 247-2198 — and from the Farmington area on Mondays and Wednesdays — all Harriet Mulnix (505) 793-1782.

Durango VA Clinic

The Durango VA Outpatient Clinic is located at 400 South Camino Del Rio, Suite G, next to Big 5 Sports. Phone number is 247-2214.

Further information

For information on these and other veterans’ benefits, call or stop by the Archuleta County Veterans Service Office located at the Senior Center in the Pagosa Springs Community Center on Hot Springs Boulevard. The office number is 731-3837, the fax number is 264-4014, cell number is 946-6648, and e-mail is afautheree@archuletacounty.org.

The office is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Bring your DD Form 214 (Discharge) for application for VA programs, and for filing in the VSO office.