Bustos Successfully Fights for Veterans, Rural Health Access in Appropriations Bill

With Critical Bustos Provisions Included, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill Heads to House Floor for Final Passage

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (IL-17) helped pass a strong Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) funding bill out of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. The legislation will now head to the House floor for final passage. Congresswoman Bustos fought to include provisions to address transportation barriers for veterans in rural areas, increase outreach to rural veterans by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), combat the lack of rural VA health providers and increase the use of telehealth and broadband access.

“It is our veterans who defend our freedoms day in and day out. We owe it to them to provide the best care possible,” said Congresswoman Bustos, a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. “That means we must use every tool at our disposal to ensure every veteran, including those living in rural areas, are not denied access to care simply because of where they live. By advancing today’s bill, we took crucial steps forward in the battle to address some of the most challenging issues standing in their way.”

BACKGROUND

Ensuring our veterans have access to the care they need is among Congresswoman Bustos’ top priorities. That’s why she pushed to include measures that will address the unique challenges facing veterans living in rural areas and supported this bill’s investment of $80.4 billion in VA medical care. In her conversations with veterans in Illinois, rural veterans raise transportation barriers as one of the main issues keeping them from seeking care, which is why Congresswoman Bustos included language in this legislation to direct a report on the transportation needs of rural veterans and how the VA can help them. In addition, the bill directs the VA to spend $5 million toward a pilot program to address this issue, and an analysis of the program’s efficacy is directed to be included in the FY 2021 President’s Budget. Reliable transportation is an issue Congresswoman Bustos pressed Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie on earlier this year. Similarly, Congresswoman Bustos pushed the VA to reach out to rural areas where they have typically struggled to provide services.

In this bill, Congresswoman Bustos requires a report on the hurdles the VA must overcome to contact hard-to-reach rural veterans and mandates a plan of action from the VA.

Before serving in the House, Congresswoman Bustos worked in health care administration for a decade. That’s why she’s been a tireless leader in the fight to lower health care costs for families and improve rural health delivery. VA health facilities in rural areas have difficulty with recruiting and retaining health providers. As a result, Congresswoman Bustos ensured this bill includes report language regarding the lack of rural health care providers to bolster quality health care options for veterans. This bill also includes language pertaining to two issues Congresswoman Bustos has been a longtime advocate for – telehealth and broadband access – which help rural veterans receive care that facilities could otherwise not provide in that area. Recently, Congresswoman Bustos testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to deliver her priorities as House Democrats work on a major infrastructure package. Among those priorities are a promotion of the use of telehealth and an increase in access to high-speed internet through a broadband upgrade – both instruments to be used to improve health care.

Finally, Military Construction projects came under threat due to the President’s national emergency declaration, which would potentially reallocate funds already appropriated but not yet under contract. Last week, Congresswoman Bustos announced the award of a $7.8 million contract for the construction of a new Fire Crash Rescue Station at the Peoria Air National Guard. Congresswoman Bustos fought to include language that would block the reprogramming of funds for an expensive, ineffective wall on the Southern Border.

Other priorities of Congresswoman Bustos that were funded in the bill include:

VA OFFICE OF RURAL HEALTH – This bill invests $270 million in rural health initiatives, in addition to the language described above.

VETERANS’ MENTAL HEALTH – This legislation funds $222 million in suicide prevention outreach activities and $9.4 billion in mental health care services. This March, Congresswoman Bustos questioned Veterans Health Administration Directors and inquired about the VA’s use of less than 1 percent of a $6.2 million budget set aside to promote the suicide prevention services they provide.

VA CONSTRUCTION – This legislation also invests heavily in major and minor construction for VA facilities by setting aside $1.7 billion for improvements.

MILITARY FAMILY HOUSING – Congresswoman Bustos has a strong record of advocating for military families. This legislation will provide $1.5 billion to fund construction, operation and maintenance of military family housing for FY2020 and ensure over 2 million military families have quality housing.

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