Access to Health Care in Rural Areas


A hard reality for many veterans living in rural areas is limited access to care and providers. In the 25,000 square miles of the first district, there is only one VA Medical Center, located in Iron Mountain. For Veterans living in rural areas, it can be hard to get access to the care they need. These long-distance gaps are partially filled by the Community Care Program’s regional healthcare providers, but it doesn’t go far enough for our residents. 

We need more Community Care funding to address the unique rural challenges of living in this district. For all veterans, this funding could provide better access to the care they need, and help reduce the stress of finding a provider. All efforts to help veterans can and will reduce the incidences of suicide within this unique population.


Regional Care Coordinators MI01 


It is imperative to have coordinators in rural areas who can help veterans with very limited resources and virtually no legal help in filing disability appeals


The Regional Care Coordinators budget was cut due to Covid-19 but should be reinstated. This was a small portion of money that was allocated to an important program. It especially helped for rural areas like MI01, more so than other districts with actual legal resources and more care facilities. The resources are so limited that many veterans don’t know where to turn for medical care, but especially mental health, which is one of Dana Ferguson’s highest priority. 


Emphasis on Veteran Mental Healthcare 


Suicide is a public health crisis–the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. As a society, we need to work together to eliminate the stigma felt by those who are suffering and struggling with their mental health. 


Twenty veterans and service members die by suicide every day, and among some groups, the rate of suicide is rising alarmingly. Even one death by suicide is devastating, and we must do more to stem the tide. 


Beyond a single-payer healthcare system, Dana Ferguson supports various initiatives and bills to better support mental health coverage for veterans including, e.g.;


  • S.3235 - Veterans Posttraumatic Growth Act

This bill requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct a two-year pilot program to study the effectiveness of nonprofit post-traumatic growth programs to determine (1) the outcomes of such programs in contrast to traditional models of mental health care, (2) the possible integration of such nonprofit programs into VA mental health care programs, and (3) the budgetary impact of such integration. Post-traumatic growth is the positive psychological change that can result from struggling with traumatic events.


The bill makes veterans who are not at immediate risk of attempting suicide and not participating in traditional mental health treatment eligible for such program.


  • Veteran PTSD and Suicide Prevention 

  • Ensure the DoD’s Suicide Prevention Office and the VA have the resources and staff they need to make smart investments with allocated funds–and that money dedicated to suicide prevention efforts never goes unused. 

  • Tackle issues that contribute to higher suicide risk. This includes implementing programs to disseminate high-quality treatments for PTSD, ensuring that veterans have access to the best treatments available no matter where they receive care, and instituting policies that seek to eliminate discrimination, end harassment and hold perpetuators of sexual assault in the military accountable. 

  • Work with the State of Michigan and community-based organizations and employers to implement public education and outreach initiatives that will help veterans understand that care is available and effective.

  • Dana Ferguson supports a national center of excellence for reducing veteran suicide, similar to the National Center on Homelessness among Veterans.

  • Require all providers of veterans services funded by the VA to receive training on suicide risk identification and safety planning, to include lethal means restriction and appropriate response and reporting about suicide.  

  • Enact policies that promote the value and dignity of life by supporting programs that increase economic stability; promote connectedness through structured social support; and reduce risky behaviors, such as substance use, fatigue, and improper firearm storage. 

  • Expand capacity at Vet Centers to ensure veterans in communities can access readjustment counseling services and resources, including financial and long-term planning. 

  • Work with the Executive to continue to drive down veteran homelessness by permanently authorizing the Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) program, which provides critical funding for wrap-around services for those facing homelessness. 

  • Reform the policy and review processes for veterans so that less-than-honorable discharges will not be unjustly awarded for conduct directly linked to the behavioral health effects of PTSD, TBI, or other trauma experienced while serving. 

Written in conjunction with PJ Stephens – Disabled veteran / Founder Angels Rise U.P. (Mental Health Awareness and Suicide Prevention Cause).


There are approximately 62,000 veterans of all ages and ranks who live in Michigan’s First Congressional District. Together with their families, they make up a large part of who lives here. We have an obligation to support our troops when they come home, and expand the ways in which we can help them. We need a better, more robust policy plan to address the issues that are important to our veterans and their families. 


We have a duty to repay and protect our veterans and active military members for the sacrifices they have made for our country. Our service members deserve our appreciation, and should be recognized for what they have done to defend our freedoms and keep us safe from harm.

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Fight the Privatization of VA Facilities 


Dana supports a universal single payer healthcare system and stands against the privatization of healthcare facilities, including VA hospitals. His entire healthcare policy – which further addresses specifics about rural healthcare and mental health services – is available at


Dana will ensure VA remains the most optimal place for veterans to receive world-class healthcare. We must prevent private insurance companies profiteering from the federal government’s obligation to care for the heroes that defended our democracy. The VA must be fully funded, organized and equipped to provide quality healthcare for all servicemembers and their families. 


Disability Services


Immediate enrollment of combat veterans with an opt-out option and a tier level higher than 6. As well as travel assistance for them regardless of disability rating or service-connected disability.


When first leaving the service and attempting to adjust to civilian life, it is difficult already to find coordinators to help veterans find the resources for healthcare. One of the obstacles in receiving disability services is having to go through the application process. That can take some time. 


While combat veterans are given an enhancement eligibility period Enhanced Eligibility there may still be limitations on what they can receive for treatment (This enhanced eligibility period should also either be lengthened or better, combat veterans should be afforded this as a permanent structure) Depending on disability, experience and demographics, the application process for benefits can be an arduous task for combat veterans. 


With already limited resources, many may not even seek treatment. In rural populations certain special services may not be available so a veteran may have to travel away from home. It is imperative that all combat veterans receive the care they so rightly deserve, as this can reduce the incidences of combat veteran suicide rates.


Legal services or more resources to help veterans who have had disability claims denied. Duty to assist veterans living in rural areas where lack of resources are prominent.


There are limited resources as well for veterans who have had their disability claims denied. Legal resources are non-existent in the Upper Peninsula. As such many veterans give up on their claims for disability or attempt to go it alone with little help. 


VSO’s (Veteran Service Officers) can only do so much, as also the claim system has recently changed making things even more confusing Veterans Appeals and Modernization Act. The VA only has a duty to assist up to a certain point within the claims process. 


The duty to assist a veteran, especially those with limited financial resources, legal and family support, should be granted throughout the entire duration of their appeals. Some of the funds should go into more training for VSO’s especially since the new claims update.               


Military Sexual Trauma


Any form of sexual assault or harassment experienced during military service is defined as Military Sexual Trauma (MST) by the VA. A 2018 Defense Department Survey of active-duty troops has found that the number of sexual assaults in the U.S. military rose by 38 percent from 2016 until 2018. 


Roughly 20,500 service members experienced sexual assaults during 2018, up from an estimated 14,000 in 2016. This isn’t acceptable in any organization, let alone our country’s military. We need to put a stop to these instances of MST, and provide victims with the support they need. 


  • Aftercare for veterans who experienced sexual assault while in the military. 

    • The VA offers places of treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) within their healthcare system. However, there is no direct allocation of funds specifically for the treatment of rape/sexual harassment. Dana believes that survivors of MST should be provided with trauma specific health care, regardless of disability rating or service-connected disability. With more veterans speaking out about their experiences and seeking help, a specific budget should reflect those efforts.


  • Trauma Specific Healthcare should also be available to those who report rape and/or sexual harassment during active service. Any form of retaliation or pushback towards those who report MST is unacceptable. Reporting these issues should never result in being demoted or discharged for other than honorable conditions. 


  • Help with legal assistance for five years following an active duty MST event


  • Like many survivors of sexual harassment within the civilian population, many veterans do not report an incident of rape and/or sexual harassment until several years after the event. Dana believes it should be the duty of the United States to assist any veteran and legal help should be afforded to them.             


Improving VA Management and Accountability


The VA’s responsibility, as stated in its mission statement, is “To fulfill President Lincoln's promise ‘To care for [servicemembers] who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow[er], and his orphan" by serving and honoring the men and women who are America's veterans.


It’s believed the VA management is operating under outdated management tools and practices. Our veterans deserve the best services available. We must enhance the capacity of the VA to serve our veterans as efficiently as possible by overseeing a generational upgrade to clinical and management systems, by leveraging commercial best-practices and modern technologies to meet the unique demands of public sector mission. 


National Guard and Military Reserves

With spouses, it’s estimated the number of National Guard and Military Reserve constituents is 30,000 voters (members and spouses) statewide in Michigan.  In the 1st District, thousands live in 1st District, with a critical training site in Grayling.

Dana Ferguson is proud to proclaim support of the National Guard and Military Reservists.  He will work to get Active Duty functions moved to the National Guard and Military Reserves with huge financial savings, up to 20%.

The National Guard is a State Organization with the Governor as the Commander in Chief.  They can be activated by the President and many First District Guard members were in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2012 and 2013. The Military Reserves are a Federal Government Organization which is part time, but integrates with Active Duty Forces.

There is a real opportunity to reduce Federal Spending by moving many functions to the National Guard or Military Reserves. It takes support to change where funding for training, travel, etc. are expanded. This would bring job opportunities to the First District as Veterans would be able to find units close to home and provide services to various branches of the US Armed Forces.

In the 1st District, we are fortunate to have Camp Grayling which is the primary training point for all military in urban warfare issues. Several Michigan National Guard Units are permanently based here. In addition, we have the 107th Engineer Battalion of the Michigan National Guard headquartered in Ishpeming with battalions and detachments in Iron River, Kingsford, Calumet, Baraga, Marquette, and Gladstone.


Dana wants to help and serve the 1-125th Infantry Battalion, Detachment 1 in Alpena and the 1-126th Cavalry Squadron, Troop B in Manistee of the Michigan National Guard.  Though the National Guard is under state control, much of their funding comes from Congress.


The First District has the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center in Alpena of the US Air Force unique to 4 locations in the Air Force and Air National Guard facility.   The other facilities are in Mississippi, Georgia, and Wisconsin.  As your member of Congress, Dana will strive to get this facility expanded.


Finally, Dana salutes the Army Reserve, Naval Operational Support Center, and the Marine Corps Reserve Units in Green Bay, WI which have many 1st  District Members who drive south from the Upper Peninsula to serve.

Hiring Obstacles 

Reluctance for employers to hire veterans is an issue for members of the National Guard and Military Reserves.

Expand Opportunities for Veterans

Dana supports veterans pursuing higher education if they choose without student debt. Servicemembers should be able to transfer their high-demand skills into the private sector without hassle and red tape.

Affordable housing is a human right. More than 18 million families are paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing and over 40,000 homeless veterans. Dana supports a Housing First solution in coordination through the VA focused on ending veterans homelessness. It should also be easier for veterans to stay in their homes, a preventative measure to combat veteran homelessness. 

To further assist veteran job seekers Dana will support efforts to:

  • Improve and simplify education benefits.

  • Make college affordable for veterans to make public colleges and universities tuition free and debt free.

  • Ensure veterans can use the full complement of benefits through the G.I. Bill without hassle or red tape.

  • Lift the expiration dates on benefits under the Montgomery and Post-9/11 G.I. Bill to match the benefits under the Forever G.I. Bill.

  • Ensure that all veterans, regardless of where they live, are guaranteed in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.

  • End the anti-veteran practices making it harder for veterans and servicemembers to transfer their education benefit and guarantee veterans’ rights to transfer their G.I. benefit to a child or spouse.

  • Ensure access to better jobs and job training.

  • Hold for-profit colleges who try to take advantage of our veterans accountable.

  • Make it easier to transfer the skills servicemembers learned during their military service into the civilian workforce.

  • Expand and improve incentives for companies to hire veterans.

  • Increase funding for the Office of Veterans Business Development in the Small Business Administration.

  • Guarantee housing for veterans through a Housing First policy with the Department of Housing and Urban Development 

  • Guarantee a federal commitment to Housing First, while also respecting the preferences of certain veterans to live in housing that meets their unique needs.

  • Make it easier for veterans to use VA-backed home loans and will make sure these loans don’t wind up in the hands of unscrupulous mortgage servicers.

  • Increase the McKinney-Vento homelessness assistance grants to build permanent supportive housing, and $500 million to provide outreach to homeless people to help connect them to available services. In the first year of this plan, 25,000 Housing Trust Fund units will be prioritized for housing the homeless.

  • Expand the Veterans Outreach Program.