Gluesenkamp Perez, Ciscomani, Vasquez Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Support Rural Veterans’ Transportation to Health Care

Feb 29, 2024

Today, Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (WA-03), along with Reps. Juan Ciscomani (AZ-06) and Gabe Vasquez (NM-02), introduced the bipartisan Rural Veterans Transportation to Care Act to expand eligibility for rural veterans to get transportation to VA health facilities.

The legislation would expand eligibility for the VA’s Highly Rural Transportation Grant (HRTG) Program, which provides grant funding for Veteran Service Organizations and State Veterans Service Agencies to provide transportation at no cost to veterans.

The VA’s HRTG Program is currently only available to counties with fewer than 7 people per square mile. With updated 2020 Census data, there are only eligible counties in 13 states.

Due to this updated data, Skamania County recently lost eligibility for this critical program, just barely exceeding the threshold for qualification at 7.15 persons per square mile. Skamania County veterans have relied on this service since 2014, and the van made approximately 300 trips and transported between 40 and 60 veterans in 2022 alone to critical care that is increasingly rare in rural communities.

This bipartisan bill would improve how VA measures rurality, helping more veterans living in rural areas get transportation to VA or VA-authorized health care facilities. As a result, Skamania County would again become eligible, and Cowlitz, Wahkiakum, Pacific, Lewis, Thurston, and Clark Counties in Southwest Washington would become newly eligible.

The Rural Veterans Transportation to Care Act

  • Expands eligibility for the VA’s HRTG Program to both rural and highly rural counties.
  • Defines rural and highly rural using RUCA designations to better take into account density, urbanization, and commuting and align with how the VA otherwise defines rurality.
  • Includes tribal organizations as eligible recipients.
  • Increases the maximum HRTG funding amount from $50,000 to $60,000, or up to $80,000 for grantees to purchase an ADA-compliant vehicle.

After Skamania County lost eligibility for the HRTG Program, Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez sent a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs McDonough in October urging the VA to fill transportation gaps for rural veterans and work with Congress to redefine highly rural. In a reply earlier this month, the Department of Veterans Affairs expressed support for the provisions outlined in the Rural Veterans Transportation to Care Act.

“It’s our responsibility to ensure our nation’s heroes are well-supported after returning home and can access the benefits they’ve earned and deserve. As veterans across Southwest Washington face dramatic reductions in life-saving services, I’m working to make sure they aren’t left behind,” said Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez. “This bipartisan bill won’t only restore critical health care transportation services for Skamania County veterans, but it will also newly expand eligibility across Southwest Washington. I’ll continue calling on the VA to uphold its promise to our rural veterans and building support for this legislation so they have the care necessary to lead full, healthy lives.”

Nearly 1 in 4 veterans in Washington live in rural areas, and there are roughly 2.7 million veterans in rural areas across the country who are enrolled in and rely on the VA’s health care system.  

Earlier this month, Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez sent a letter to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs urging the agency to reopen a VA clinic in Lewis County, after the Chehalis clinic was closed in 2021.

Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez has recovered over $78,000 for constituents owed to them by the Department of Veterans Affairs. She also co-led the bipartisan VET MEDS Act to support veterans’ access to VA-certified specialists and examiners in rural and high-need communities, which was signed into law as part of a larger Senate package in October 2023.

The Congresswoman also introduced the bipartisan Helping Heroes Act to support veteran families’ access to mental health care, peer support, and other resources that can help them lead healthier lives.

“Our veterans deserve access to high-quality, affordable care no matter what corner of Arizona they live in,” said Rep. Ciscomani, who represents over 70,000 veterans in AZ-06. “This bipartisan effort helps facilitate transportation for our veterans so they can get the care they deserve in a timely and efficient manner. We made a solemn promise to care for those who served our country, and this legislation helps to fulfill that duty.” 

“Veterans have sacrificed so much for our country, and it is our duty to ensure they receive the support and resources they need. I’m proud to introduce the bipartisan Rural Veterans Transportation to Care Act to ensure our veterans get the care they need, regardless of where they live,” said Rep. Vasquez. “In a recent roundtable with veterans, I heard firsthand about the challenges of having to travel for hours to access vital services. This bipartisan bill will ease the burden for our rural veterans and ensure they receive the care and assistance they deserve.”

Full text of the legislation is available here.

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