Democratic Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp brought Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, to Minot Tuesday to help talk about the veterans programs that she would support for North Dakota if elected in November.
Alaska is piloting a Heroes Health Care program that enables veterans to receive health-care services from local providers rather than travel great distances, often at great cost, to visit a U.S. Veterans Administration health-care facility. The state also is a pioneer in telemedicine, especially in providing mental health services. Begich said no co-pay is charged when veterans use the telemedicine services for mental health care.
Begich said the programs are working in Alaska and could work in North Dakota, too.
Jill Schramm/MDN • Heidi Heitkamp, right, listens as Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska speaks at a veterans roundtable in Minot Tuesday.
"In rural states, we have to do something different," he said.
Heitkamp said she supports a Heroes Health Card, which veterans could use to receive VA-reimbursed health care from local clinics.
Margaret Hass of Minot said her 95-year-old husband would benefit from such a program. He has chosen to get his health-care locally rather than travel to the veterans hospital in Fargo, relying on Medicare and their supplemental insurance rather than the veterans benefits to which he is entitled, she said.
"We need to look at every way we can to deliver a quality service at the most efficient price," Heitkamp said, although she added that keeping promises to veterans takes commitment.
"It's going to cost us some money, and when people want to nickel and dime the veterans, we need a lot of help standing up and saying, 'Not on our watch,'" she said.
Begich said the United States made promises to provide medical care to veterans. As many of them have aged and health-care costs risen, the country needs to stand by its promise, he said. In that environment, it's important not to waste resources or spend huge sums on studying problems for which programs like those in Alaska already provide answers, he said.
Congressman Rick Berg, R-N.D., who is running for the Senate seat against Heitkamp, supports sees good ideas with the Heroes Health Card and other programs to improve access.
"In rural states like North Dakota, access is an issue, which is why I pushed for legislation recently signed into law that will provide better access to VA services for rural veterans, including tele-healthcare and travel reimbursement," he said. "North Dakota is home to thousands of veterans and service members, and I am committed to ensuring they have the benefits and care they have earned."