Udall, Tipton Urge VA to Permanently Locate a Veterans Benefits Administration Counselor in Grand Junction

Bipartisan Letter Underscores How the Counselor Would Save Western Slope Veterans Time, Travel Costs

Senator Mark Udall, who serves on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, and Congressman Scott Tipton urged the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs today to permanently locate a Veterans Benefits Administration counselor in Grand Junction to make it easier and less costly for Western Slope veterans to access VA resources. Veterans currently need to travel to Denver — a costly, time-consuming and cumbersome trip — to meet with a Veterans Benefits Administration counselor.

"Colorado's veteran population will continue to grow in the coming years, with many recruits returning to their rural home counties. Notably, three of the four Colorado counties with the highest recruitment are on the Western Slope: San Juan, Dolores and Mesa Counties, which are also among the least populous counties in the state," Udall and Tipton wrote in the letter. "Furthermore, statistics demonstrate that the veteran population with the greatest need for VA services resides in rural Colorado. … Placing a permanent VA benefits counselor on the West Slope is a low-cost, commonsense move that would save significant money and travel time for thousands of Colorado veterans. We urge you to give this matter the highest priority, and we look forward to working with you to ensure veterans in rural Colorado have improved access to the quality VA services available in metro areas."

Udall and Tipton also underscored in the letter that locating a Veterans Benefits Administration counselor is a long-term investment that acknowledges the growing number of military recruits from rural Colorado, particularly the Western Slope. They note that military recruiting in Colorado has increased by more than 10 percent over the past decade, with a large number of recruits coming from Western Slope communities like Mesa, San Juan and Dolores counties.

The view the letter, click HERE or read below:

The Honorable Eric Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20420

Dear Secretary Shinseki,

We write today to encourage you to permanently locate a benefits counselor in Grand Junction to ensure that western Colorado's rural veteran population is appropriately and adequately served. Despite the need for more outreach to rural Colorado, particularly the West Slope, all Veterans Benefits Administration counselors are located in the Denver metro area, with periodic but inconsistent outreach to rural counties.

Over the past decade, military recruiting in Colorado has increased by more than 10%, with a disproportionate number of enlisted men and women coming from the 46 counties classified as rural or frontier by the U.S. Census Bureau. This is consistent with national trends, where half of all recruits in the last ten years came from rural communities. Colorado's veteran population will continue to grow in the coming years, with many recruits returning to their rural home counties. Notably, three of the four Colorado counties with the highest recruitment are on the Western Slope: San Juan, Dolores and Mesa Counties, which are also among the least populous counties in the State. Furthermore, statistics demonstrate that the veteran population with the greatest need for VA services resides in rural Colorado, where veterans are more likely to be of lower socio-economic status, uninsured and with limited access to advanced health care providers. This data, coupled with input from veterans' organizations and leaders in western Colorado, underscores the growing need to ensure these veterans have access to benefits counselors.

Given that the veteran population in rural Colorado is increasing and is likely to continue to grow, a decentralized, regionally focused model should be considered. This proposed solution will augment current efforts to serve rural veterans through tele-benefits technology and the Disabled American Veterans representative on the Western Slope. Assigning a fulltime benefits counselor will also help the VA tackle its substantial claims backlog by ensuring that veterans file accurate and appropriate claims, reducing the need for multiple submissions. Moreover, the addition of a permanent benefits counselor in western Colorado will support the VA's mission to identify non-enrolled veterans, for which there are insufficient data according to the VA's Veteran Rural Health Advisory Committee. In addition to yielding a more comprehensive picture of rural veterans’ issues, including the need for more efficient and focused delivery of health care service, increased outreach will provide the foundation for the VA to provide 21st century services to our returning service members.

Placing a permanent VA benefits counselor on the West Slope is a low-cost, commonsense move that would save significant money and travel time for thousands of Colorado veterans. We urge you to give this matter the highest priority, and we look forward to working with you to ensure veterans in rural Colorado have improved access to the quality VA services available in metro areas.

Signed,