State's rural veterans get national focus
U.S. Reps. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, and Ann Marie Buerkle, R-New York, will be taking part in a Committee on Veteran's Affairs Field Hearing in the Upper Peninsula today, Monday, June 20, at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain.
U.S. Reps. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, and Ann Marie Buerkle, R-New York, will be taking part in a Committee on Veteran's Affairs Field Hearing in the Upper Peninsula today, Monday, June 20, at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain. The lawmakers are expected to hear testimony on the quality and accessibility of health care given to rural veterans in Northern Michigan.
The committee will specifically be examining the use of $533 million spent by Congress in the past two years for the more than 3 million rural veterans registered with the VA. Those funds were meant to expand the VA health system to prevent remotely located veterans in Michigan from being forced to make the several hundred mile trek to Milwaukee, Wis., or Saginaw for services. While some expansion in the area is evidenced by the new clinic slated for Mackinaw City later this year, some have questioned where all the money is going.
The VA Office of Inspector General, the department's internal auditor, noted in a recent report that the VA "lacked reasonable assurance" that its use of $273 of the $533 million in rural health funding it received in 2009 and 2010 had been used to improve the care of veterans, McClatchy Newspapers reported.
"A lot of time there will be money for construction, but there won't be any money to hire anybody," said Congressman Benishek, who previously worked as a surgeon for 20 years at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center and now sits on the House Committee on Veteran's Affairs. "We are trying to develop a program to help the local guy determine how to spend some of the money, because if you can't hire a nurse there is no point in spending $1 million to remodel the (hospital) wing." The goal, Benishek said, will be to be draft some legislation based on the findings of the hearing. Veterans service organizations, VA representatives and others are expected to testify.