I want to talk about the backlog of claims. The backlog of claims remains a challenge for VA. There is no doubt that VA must accelerate its progress. As a member of the Commission, I pledge to provide the necessary resources so that you can complete your work.
I realize that the backlog has fallen by 40% from a year ago’s high, which means we still have a lot of work to do. The backlog of claims is only one step in my view to better serve veterans, so I recently introduced a bill to Senator Heller of Nevada to improve care and access to care for rural veterans.
One of the provisions of the rural veterans improvement bill is to strengthen mental health care for rural veterans. After talking to veterans in Taos, New Mexico and Roswell, New Mexico, I knew clearly that rural veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and other services-related mental health problems did not always receive the care they deserved.
This is worrying because veterans who do not have access to mental health care may have a higher risk of harming themselves and others. The Secretary-General will use support initiatives such as the Rural Veterans Improvement Act to provide services to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or other mental health problems related to services under certain conditions, where treatment services for rural veterans are unavailable or alternatives to treatment. Such as complementary or alternative medicine, including traditional aboriginal treatment.
The method is not available. I need to make sure that we understand and respond to your initiative. We have young people who have been on mission for ten years. They are great young people and they have done well. We are proud of them.
Mental health is what we continue to pay attention to. As I said, we’ve increased our budget here by 61%, so that’s what we’re working hard on. Rural issues are challenging, and we have tried some measures, some of which seem to be working.
The challenge facing rural America is to provide the services that these veterans receive and deserve, and what we are doing now ranks first among all community clinics. We also provide mental health services, which are provided there or paid for in the community, or we provide telemedicine or telehealth connections through a large number of mental health in the fee-based program.
Now, by recommendation, we actually do telemedicine at home, with patients sitting on their webcams and treating psychiatrists in remote areas. Last year, 80,000 veterans participated in our telemedicine work, which we expect will increase substantially in 2014 and 2015.
We hope to cooperate with you to understand how the legislative details are consistent with what we are doing. But, as I know, we are committed to providing mental health services to these rural areas because there is good evidence that people do get better when they come to us and we can treat them.
Realizing telemedicine and telemedicine is a good opportunity for us to migrate to these rural areas, but one of the problems of visiting these clinics is the high turnover rate of rural Mediterranean medical clinics. Like other people, we have difficulties in rural areas, which is not unique to VA.
Our mobility rate and the overall system mobility rate are far lower than those of the private sector, but in rural areas across the country, we are looking for doctors, doctor assistants, clinics, nurses, etc. What we have is tools, wage flexibility, and we pay competitive salaries.
This is a good place for a career. There are various opportunities for advancement. We have recruitment and retention bonuses, we can or reward them, and we can forgive some of these people for their educational debts, so I think that’s within the budget.
There must be money, and we need some tools to practice attractive appeals in the American countryside.