By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press
LOUISVILLE - U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning promised Wednesday to push for the best health care available for veterans during a visit to a Veterans Affairs hospital with the Senate's top leader.
Bunning was accompanied by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a heart surgeon who reminisced about performing operations at VA hospitals.
Bunning, a Republican who is seeking a second term this fall, said he would use his assignment to the Veterans Affairs Committee to "make sure that the best care is available for our veterans."
"We've been working very hard to make sure that the facility here and all other veterans' facilities have the equipment and the dollars that are needed for their progress," Bunning said at a brief news conference.
Bunning is being challenged by Democratic state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo, a surgeon from Hazard.
Frist, R-Tenn., said he was impressed by the VA hospital's use of electronic technology.
"It gives the very best service to our veterans," he said. "It's the heart and soul of where we're going in health care in the future - right here already existing."
Mongiardo has advocated incorporating electronic technology to cut costs and improve health care.
The Louisville hospital treated about 38,000 patients last year, officials said. It serves a 35-county area in Kentucky and Indiana that has 154,000 veterans, VA officials said. The state's other VA hospital is in Lexington.
A study on whether to build a new VA hospital in Louisville is expected to be completed by year's end.
Bunning is pushing for legislation to allow the state to buy or lease the current hospital and use it as a nursing home if a new hospital is built.
Mongiardo said that Bunning and Frist "say the right things in Kentucky but vote the wrong way in Washington."
In a statement, Mongiardo said the proposed 2005 federal budget will leave veterans' programs at least $2.6 billion under budget, including a $46.2 million shortfall for veterans' health care in Kentucky.
"The crisis in veterans' health care is indicative of a broader failure by the politicians in Washington when it comes to health care," Mongiardo said.
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