In November, most Americans turn their attention to the holidays. If your family is like mine, you are making arrangements for the children to return from college and spend some family time. However, we should first remember November is the month to honor the brave men and women who made it possible for Americans to celebrate our religious holidays, spend time with family, and who kept the United States safe. Veterans Day, Nov. 11, is observed each year to honor our nation's heroes who defended liberty and supported the cause of freedom.
We should take a moment to discuss the important issues for Nevada's 300,000 veterans - about 16 percent of our population. Two of the most pressing matters for veterans and their families are Veterans Administration clinics and health-care benefits.
On the issue of clinics, I have worked with the Veterans Administration to upgrade the Elko VA facility to a virtual clinic that provides primary care and mental health services as an alternative to a face-to-face visit. Additional services will include care coordination/home tele-health and, as available, specialty tele-medicine services. Still, more work needs to be done, and Elko needs a full-time clinic. At the same time, I continue to work in Reno for a new veterans home to supply 90 beds for nursing and assisted living. This joint effort by the state and federal governments will provide services for 80,000 veterans in the area. Additionally, I am advocating additional federal funding for a new VA Medical Care Facility in Las Vegas.
Another issue facing veterans in Nevada is the distance to the nearest health-care facility. Many of Nevada's veterans travel unreasonable distances, including to Utah or California, to their nearest Veterans Administration medical facility for care. Numerous elderly veterans in our state have difficulty regularly making these vital trips. Therefore, I co-authored the Healthy Vets Act (H.R. 315) to allow veterans in areas significantly far enough from the nearest VA medical facility to contract with a local doctor on a fee basis. Veterans could then receive primary care in their own community.
To help address veterans' health care, I have advocated and supported important health-care bills and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) treatment bills. The House also recently considered the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill for fiscal year 2008. This legislation included $44.6 billion for veterans' benefits and $37 billion for veterans' healthcare - a $4.4 billion increase from last year. This measure had broad bipartisan support and should have been passed into law months ago. Unfortunately, the majority party in Congress held it hostage. Instead of passing stand-alone legislation, which I supported, the majority party wrapped it into a bloated, contentious and unrelated measure loaded with pet pork projects. This strategy has stalled, and Congress should now correct itself and honor our veterans.
As Congress concludes business this year, I will continue fighting for veterans' benefits and supporting our men and women in uniform, whether they bravely served in World War II or are in Afghanistan or Iraq. From the Middle East to Naval Air Station Fallon and Nellis Air Force Base, our troops are doing an excellent job protecting Americans from new threats.
Recognizing the sacrifices our troops and their families have always made, I will work to ensure programs that serve veterans stay strong and affordable, now and into the future.
• Congressman Dean Heller is a native of Carson City. He previously was an assemblyman in the Nevada Legislature and the Nevada Secretary of State.