In the South-Central Colorado mountains–about three hours from a major city and the nearest major VA health care facility–the Veterans Coalition of San Luis Valley (VCSLV) hosted a town hall at the Alamosa National Guard Armory. The setting couldn’t have been better to illustrate the advantages of the recently implemented MISSION Act.
The bi-partisan VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act (MISSION Act) of 2018 strengthens VA’s ability to provide state-of-the-art care and services.
“It’s really needed in this area,” said Army Veteran Richard Nagley, who leads the VCSLV board. “The provisions help to fill gaps in care for Veterans because of the huge geographical separation of the San Luis Valley from major health care facilities–including VA.”
Formed three years ago, the Veterans Coalition of San Luis Valley, a Community Veterans Engagement Board, serves to enhance the lives of Veterans and their families in communities throughout the rural, multi-county region. The efforts of the Veterans Coalition of San Luis Valley board help to ensure issues affecting Veterans are brought to the forefront for collective solutions.
The Alamosa town hall featured two sessions. The first session gave guidance to nearly 40 local health care providers on the rollout of the MISSION Act. The second session was the community town hall, with more than 60 Veterans, survivors, family members, state VFW leadership, congressional liaisons and other community stakeholders on-hand.
Though only about 20% of Americans reside in highly rural areas, nearly half of the nation’s Veterans hail from these small communities. This geographic distribution is one of the many challenges VA faces in fulfilling its health care obligations.
Rural Veterans often suffer higher rates of depression, chronic disease and physical health problems compared to non-Veteran rural residents. The myriad barriers to health care access include travel time and distance, lack of transportation, limited availability of VA or community services, lack of behavioral health and other specialty services, a paucity of providers and limited military cultural sensitivity among community providers regarding Veterans’ needs.[i]
“Our commitment to Veterans is always our highest priority,” said Nate Smith, from VA’s Office of Community Care. “Our staff has always been dedicated to providing quality health care and now the implementation of the Mission Act improves our efforts to meet the needs of our Veterans in the right place and at the right time.”
Dr. Katie Becket, Medical Director, Office of Community Care with the Eastern Colorado VA Healthcare System, described the enhanced Community Care program and the eligibility criteria for Care in the Community under the MISSION Act. But, she emphasized, Veterans can still choose to have VA provide their health services.
“It opens a bunch of options, but Veterans are not limited,” Becket said. “The VA is still available, too. So please do continue to access VA resources, because we provide the best health care anywhere.”
Nagley lauded the positive impact of the Alamosa Town Hall and the spirit of partnership between the VCSLV board he leads, local community providers and stakeholders, Veterans Services Organizations and VA.
“We really appreciate the dedicated effort of our VA partners in taking the time to travel and be here with us today,” Nagley said. “It really helped our Veterans and the greater community better understand the intent of the MISSION Act.”