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Introduction of the Veterans Health Equity Act of 2009

Mr. President, I rise today to introduce The Veterans Health Equity Act of 2009. This legislation requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure that every State either has a full-service veterans hospital or, in the alternative, access to in-state hospital care and medical services comparable to the services provided in full-service hospitals.

New Hampshire is the only state that does not have a full-service veterans hospital or a military hospital that provides comparable care to veterans.

This imposes a great burden on New Hampshire veterans who are forced to travel out-of-state for routine inpatient medical services. New Hampshire has over 130,000 veterans, and this number is projected to grow over the next 10 years. In 2007 alone, 704 of our veterans were forced to travel out-of-state for acute care services.

New Hampshire’s entire congressional delegation, Senate and House, Republican and Democrat, is united in our commitment to end this unfair treatment of our veterans. I am pleased that the senior Senator from New Hampshire, Judd Gregg, has agreed to co-sponsor this legislation. Our bill is companion legislation to that introduced last week in the House by Representative Carol Shea-Porter [and co-sponsored by Representative Paul Hodes]. I salute Representative Shea-Porter for the leadership she has shown on this issue.

Our goal is to ensure that New Hampshire veterans can get the care they need and deserve in-state. Our legislation provides the Veterans Administration with flexibility in achieving this end. If it is not feasible for the Veterans Administration to construct a new full-service hospital in New Hampshire or restore full services at the VA hospital in Manchester, this legislation simply requires the Veterans Administration the option of entering into contracts to provide comparable care in-state.

Mr. President, my father served in Europe during World War II; my husband served in the Army; and my son-in-law Ryan recently served in the Air Force. I am proud of my family’s military service and the service of all veterans from New Hampshire and across the nation. Every freedom and right we enjoy today was paid for with the sacrifices of the men and women who have served in our nation’s armed forces. Our veterans deserve first-rate medical care regardless of where they live.

There are full-service veterans hospitals in 47 states and veterans in Alaska and Hawaii are able to receive care at military hospitals. New Hampshire alone has neither. I am hopeful that our colleagues will recognize this inequity and support our effort to provide New Hampshire veterans with the same access to health care that veterans in every other state receive.

I look forward to working with New Hampshire’s congressional delegation, my Senate colleagues, and the new Obama administration to end this injustice.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.