Heitkamp backs proposal to allow non-V.A. treatment for vets

FARGO – North Dakota Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp said Monday she supports veterans’ benefits, including a proposal that would allow former service members to receive major medical care closer to home.

Veterans can receive basic services at satellite Veterans Affairs clinics across North Dakota, but they must travel to the VA medical center in Fargo for major treatments.

A proposal called the “Heroes Health Card” could allow veterans to receive those same treatments at non-VA facilities, which would especially benefit veterans in western North Dakota, Heitkamp said.

North Dakota Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp talks about veterans issues at a press conference Monday, Aug. 6, 2012 in Fargo, N.D. Kristen M. Daum / The Forum.

The proposal is based off one offered by Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in Alaska, where – like North Dakota – veterans must sometimes travel far distances for medical care.

“For a cancer patient or someone with hypertension, a six-hour car ride is not good for their health,” Heitkamp said. “If I’m elected to the United States Senate, I will promote a ‘Heroes Health Card’ so that someone can simply take that card to the local physician to get services they need.”

Heitkamp said the proposal would not affect what services veterans can access at the VA medical center.

“I can imagine that getting services at home might be more costly – but it’s a debt we owe,” Heitkamp said. “To ask someone who is suffering from cancer to get in a vehicle and travel three hours when that exact same service is within 15-20 minutes of their home, that’s asking too much of the veterans. We’re going to put veterans first, not that pocketbook.”

Heitkamp said she also favors renewing tax credits for companies that hire veterans, and she supports funding mental health programs for veterans, such as suicide prevention counseling.

Rick Berg

Republican Rep. Rick Berg – Heitkamp’s opponent in the Senate contest – also supports veterans’ benefits.

“Rick Berg has always been a strong advocate for our nation’s veterans and their families, voting to expand veterans’ health and benefits programs while also working directly with North Dakota veterans on numerous individual case-by-case issues that have arisen,” Berg’s congressional spokesman Chris Pack said.

Pack did not specify Berg’s stance on the “Heroes Health Card” proposal Monday evening.