Representative Bruce Braley, a Democrat from Waterloo, has reintroduced legislation that would add Veterans Administration facilities and state veterans homes as eligible for a program that pays medical school expenses for future doctors, nurses, and health practitioners who agree to work in medically underserved areas.

Dr. Douglas Steenblock, Chief of Mental Health Services at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown suggested adding the facilities to the National Health Service Corps program. “I was a member of the National Medical Health Services Corps myself from 1999 to 2001, and I recognized immediately that it’s a valuable and very effective tool in recruitment and retention,” Steenblock says.

He says Iowa could see a big impact from the change. “It’s especially helpful for rural entities or rural health care facilities, and as we know, many of our veterans in Iowa are returning home to rural areas that may pose additional difficulties in getting the health care that they need,” according to Steenblock.

He says they have trouble finding and keeping psychiatrists at the Marshalltown facility, especially in entery-level positions. “We had a gifted young psychologist who resigned from our facility in 2001 — and at that time he made it very clear that the lack of a loan-repayment program was a major factor in his decision,” Steenblock says.

The position was filled by and Iowa State graduate, but Steenblock says he still worries that her student loan debt might make her look elsewhere for such a program. “I think if we have that piece in place, we can get the best and brightest at the Veterans Home and I think some of the other VA facilities can attract excellent providers to rural areas as well,” Steenblock says. “So, I have an old expression, ‘if you fund it, they will come’.” Congressman Braley says he will use Dr. Steenblock’s words to try and convince others in Washington, D.C. about the need for the legislation.