BARTLETT - Veterans across New Hampshire are applauding a bipartisan bill in the U.S. Senate that would allow them to receive health care closer to home.
In the wake of reports that the Department of Veterans Affairs had secret "waiting lists" of people seeking care, most notably at the VA facility in Phoenix, both the House of Representatives and the Senate have passed bills to reform the VA and provide services to vets that had been delayed or denied.
The Senate's measure contains a provision that was introduced by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., that would let veterans get care from a non-VA provider if they reside in a state without a full-service medical facility, like New Hampshire, and live more than 20 miles from the nearest full-service VA hospital.
Because the VA's Manchester center is not a full-service hospital, some veterans who need more extensive care have to travel to either Roxbury, Mass., or White River Junction, Vt.
On Friday afternoon, Ayotte addressed the Veterans of Foreign Wars Department of New Hampshire, which this weekend is holding its annual convention at the Attitash Grand Summit hotel, and she spoke about the effort in Congress to improve things at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Mark McCabe, a Pelham resident who is the incoming commander of the VFW New Hampshire Department, said what Ayotte and Shaheen have proposed was "fabulous."
"Now you can get care at your doorstep," said McCabe, who today will be sworn in as commander to succeed Jim Golden.
McCabe noted that New Hampshire veterans get good care already and that spending per-veteran here was among the lowest in the country.
Bill Ryan, a Lyndeborough resident who is the quartermaster of VFW Post 8641 in Merrimack, said he regularly has to travel more than 20 miles to get medical care in Manchester. He added that some veterans he knows are deterred by even that relatively short ride.
Ryan commended Ayotte and Shaheen for helping New Hampshire veterans.
"In my humble opinion," said Ryan, "for 90 percent of the people in that room (at Attitash), it's going to be a good thing."
Ayotte later said another important provision of the bill is that it would hold people "accountable" for what she described as possible illegal behavior by some VA officials.
"I share with you the shame and outrage" that has erupted since investigation found that some VA administrators - but none operating facilities that serve N.H. veterans - had falsified waiting lists, said Ayotte.
She said another important element in the Senate bill would allow the firing or demotion of administrators found to have engaged in wrongdoing, and it would also "make sure it never happens again."