Something which many people don’t realize is that 41 percent of Veterans enrolled in VA health care live in rural areas. And that figure represents more than three million Vets. With respect to our newest Vets, 30 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan service members return to rural communities upon discharge. Over the past several years, we’ve seen a 15 percent jump in rural Veteran health care enrollment—a trend we expect to continue.
As we work to provide health care closer to where today’s Veterans live, we are happy to announce VA’s plans to open thirteen new community-based outpatient clinics throughout the country, including eight clinics in rural areas. Below is a list of where the eight new rural clinics will open.
Georgia – Tifton (Tift County)
Maryland – St. Mary’s
Missouri – Marshfield (Webster County)
North Carolina – Sanford (Lee County)
Ohio – Georgetown (Brown County)
Oregon – Grants Pass (Josephine County)
Pennsylvania – Huntingdon and Indiana
With so many of our Veterans living in rural areas, VA’s Office of Rural Health has worked to improve their health care access. Since 2009, we’ve implemented over 1,000 projects—from setting up new community-based outpatient clinics, funding more outreach clinics, and reducing the need for Vets to travel long distances by increasing the use of telehealth technology. In the past three years alone, more than 600,000 Vets lives have been impacted by our new programs.
For Veterans living in rural areas with complex, chronic and disabling conditions, we have partnered with the VHA Geriatrics and Extended Care Office to expand the Home Based Primary Care programs. Essentially, a health care team—supervised by a VA physician—provides services in the Veterans home. This significantly decreases travel and ensures that Vets receive the care they need. Nationally, this program is available around the country at 144 medical centers and 116 CBOCs. This year, the Office of Rural Health will spend $43 million to expand this program to even more rural Veterans.
Aside from health care services, VA has established more partnerships with rural community organizations and services. As you may have recently read, VA has trained hundreds of rural clergy. Not only have these community leaders been trained on issues facing returning Veterans and their families—they have learned about VA services and benefits so they can help Vets get the care and services they need. ORH is also supporting several outreach initiatives that focus on creating partnerships with local community entities like law enforcement, faith-based organizations, Veterans Service Organizations, and health care providers to help reach rural Veterans. The goal is to inform as many rural Vets about their VA benefits and services, as well as how to access and navigate the VA system. This year alone, 1,700 rural Veterans have attended outreach events. Since August 2011, Project ARCH (Access Received Closer to Home), a pilot program implemented by VA to provide non-VA contract care in local communities, has served over 2500 rural Veterans.
Throughout the next year, the Office of Rural Health plans to train and educate medical residents, dental, nursing and allied health professions students from affiliated institutions to introduce them to rural health care—with the expectation of recruiting and retaining them in rural areas of the country. We will also support the expansion of the Women Veterans Health Strategic Health Care Group. The Office hopes to improve access to care for rural women Veterans through provider education and telehealth technologies. Finally, ORH is supporting an expansion of the new Specialty Care Access Networks-Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes into rural VA clinics. This program is designed to assist other VA facilities by providing specialty care and services—with the highest quality possible—to the greatest number of Veterans by utilizing innovative technology and services.
To learn more about the Office of Rural Health visit our website. You’ll find more information on our programs and services.
Mary Beth Skupien, PhD, MS, RN, is the Director of the Office of Rural Health for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.