September 02, 2014

Udall Announces $2 Million Grant for New Mexico Department of Veterans’ Services

New pilot program seeks to improve veterans’ access to health care and benefits in rural and underserved communities

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall announced that the New Mexico Department of Veterans' Services has been selected to participate in a new pilot program to help better serve rural veterans. The department will receive $2 million in federal grants to increase access to health care and benefits for veterans and their families living in rural and underserved New Mexico communities. The N.M. Department of Veterans' Services was one of five entities selected nationally for the Rural Veterans Coordination Pilot (RVCP) by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), a competitive two-year grant program to help veterans and their families as they transition from military service to civilian life.

"Our veterans have earned the best care we can provide, regardless of where they live. Yet too many veterans in rural New Mexico communities face long travel times, a lack of health care options, and medical staff shortages," Udall said. "I talked with VA Secretary McDonald about these issues when we met during his confirmation process, and I'm pleased that New Mexico has been selected to participate in this program. I'm hopeful that the RVCP program will help rural veterans in New Mexico and across the country get better access to quality care."

The awarded funding may be used to increase the coordination of health care and benefits for veterans, increase the availability of high quality medical and mental health services, provide assistance to families of transitioning veterans, or provide outreach to veterans and their families. The Veterans Health Administration's Office of Rural Health will oversee the pilot program, and the VA will use it to evaluate the effectiveness of non-VA entities, such as community-based organizations and local and state government entities, to improve access to benefits and services for returning veterans and their families.

Udall helped to pass the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010, which authorizes the RVCP, and he continues to work to address some of the biggest barriers to health care for veterans living in rural communities. In February, he introduced the bipartisan Rural Veterans Improvement Act with Senator Dean Heller (R-Nev.) in response to concerns he had heard from veterans across New Mexico. The bill would address some of the biggest barriers to health care for veterans in rural communities, including retention of doctors and nurses at rural clinics, access to mental health care, transportation to doctors' appointments, and improvements at the VA's community-based outpatient clinics.