MGP introduces bipartisan bill to expand transportation access to health care for rural veterans


Third Congressional District Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Washougal, has introduced a bipartisan bill to expand rural veterans transportation access to Veteran Administration (VA) health facilities.

The Rural Veterans Transportation to Care Act would expand access to the Highly Rural Transportation Grant (HRTG) program, which awards funding to veteran service organizations and state agencies to provide transportation for veterans. According to Gluesenkamp Perez, nearly a quarter of Washington’s veterans live in rural areas, and 2.7 million veterans in rural areas across the country rely on the VA’s health care system.

Currently, only counties with fewer than seven people per square mile are eligible for the program, a threshold that only counties in 13 states meet. Skamania County recently lost eligibility, after data from the 2020 Census showed 7.15 persons per square mile.

In 2022, the program provided 300 trips to between 40 and 60 veterans in Skamania County. If passed, Skamania County would gain eligibility for the program, and Cowlitz, Wahkiakum, Pacific, Lewis, Thurston, and Clark Counties would also become eligible.

If passed, the bill would expand eligibility to both rural and highly rural counties and expand eligibility to tribal organizations.

“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,” Gluesenkamp Perez said in a statement. “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.”

Earlier this month, Gluesenkamp Perez wrote to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs urging the agency to reopen a VA clinic in Lewis County. Gluesenkamp Perez has also recovered over $78,000 for constituents owed to them by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Rural Veterans Transportation to Care Act is cosponsored by Reps. Juan Ciscomani, R-Arizona, and Gabe Vasquez, D-New Mexico.

“Our veterans deserve access to high-quality, affordable care no matter what corner of Arizona they live in,” Ciscomani said in a statement. “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.”