STERLING – Bobby Schilling, a candidate for the 17th Congressional District seat, was in Sterling on Thursday to visit the local veterans’ clinic.
In November, Schilling will try to win back the seat he lost in 2012 to Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline.
Schilling, R-Colona, said he was impressed with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Sterling Community Based Outpatient Clinic and is a strong supporter of the CBOC facilities, which aim to reduce the distance veterans must travel for medical care.
The closest VA hospital to the area is in Iowa City, Iowa.
“It’s a huge piece of the puzzle, so to speak, to help the VA take a lot of the backlog off,” he said. “One of the things I would like to see in the local facilities, like this one, is to have them have more assistance and maybe somebody in-house that can help a lot of our veterans that are coming home with [post-traumatic stress disorder].”
Having an in-house mental health professional, Schilling said, could help the CBOC facilities be even more effective because, when veterans call seeking help for PTSD or other mental health issues, they usually need help immediately.
The VA has been at the center of a recent scandal in which it was revealed facilities had lied about the average wait times for veterans and even covered it up.
On Thursday, Bustos said she’s been briefed, at her request, by those in charge of the VA facilities in the district and isn’t aware of any complaints against the Sterling clinic.
Moving forward, Bustos has called for an FBI investigation into the scandal, which has started, she said, and wants more information about what happened.
“I think above all else, we need to get the answers to the questions that are still out there, to the systematic problems to vets’ access to timely health care,” she said.
In 2011, while Schilling was a member of Congress, he introduced the Enhanced Veteran Healthcare Experience Act of 2011, a version of which recently passed, that would allow veterans to visit non-VA hospitals at the VA’s expense.
The piece of legislation that recently passed would allow veterans to visit non-VA facilities, if the VA facility they call has at least 40-day wait time, which wasn’t a part of Schilling’s legislation.
Because of the long wait times at many VA facilities, once the bill is signed into law, many veterans will be allowed to visit non-VA facilities, Schilling said, which will reduce much of the current backlog.
When it comes the November election, Schilling said he wants voters to look at him and Bustos side by side.
“We’re excited,” Schilling said. “We think we’ve got a great opportunity. And the big thing we want to do is just contrast the two of us to show who we believe is the better one. And we believe we’re the better choice.”
Bustos pointed to the Thomson Correctional Center, legislation to help speed up repairs and upgrades to the locks and dams on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, and $110 million in funding for the Rock Island Arsenal as economic achievements from her time in office.
“It’ll be a matter of looking at what we’ve accomplished over the last 18 months,” she said of the election. “... [I’m] very proud of the fact that we’ve focused on the economy.”