WASHINGTON, D.C. - As our nation continues to try and fulfill all of our promises to veterans and their families, access to quality health care in rural areas continues to pose a challenge to our VA system. U.S. Sens. John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced legislation to improve access to health care services for veterans living in rural communities across the country.
“We have worked hard in Arkansas to meet the needs of our 250,000 veterans living in the Natural State.” Boozman said. “At the same time, the VA Office of Rural Health needs a comprehensive and strategic plan that addresses the challenges of providing quality care in rural communities throughout the country. Too often these veterans face difficulties in receiving health services and this legislation is a step in the right direction for improving both access to, and the quality of health care that our rural veterans deserve.”
"On Veterans Day, we not only need to pay tribute to our military veterans with our words, but also with our actions," said Sen. Franken. "Too often veterans living in rural communities in Minnesota and across the country face a profound shortage of medical providers and facilities and must travel great distances for care. With 40 percent of all veterans in the VA health system living in rural areas, we have to ensure that these men and women have access to the health care they’ve earned. My bill will ensure VA better plans for and manages the resources it has for rural areas to improve care for veterans across rural America."
Developing an Effective Plan for Providing Health Care for Rural Veterans
Congress established the Office of Rural Health (ORH) in 2007 and has appropriated about $750 million to address barriers to quality care in rural areas. Unfortunately, the lack of an effective strategic plan for the ORH funds has meant that they have been used in a piecemeal, uneven fashion and have not been as effective as they could have been.
The legislation requires VA to develop within six months a five-year strategic plan for ORH. The plan must include goals and objectives with specific milestones for:
- Recruiting and retaining VA healthcare personnel in rural areas.
- Ensuring timeliness and quality of care when VA contracts with non-VA providers in rural areas.
- Expanding the use of telemedicine in rural areas.
- More Effectively using VA mobile outpatient clinics.
- Ensuring ORH funds only go toward initiatives that improve access to and quality of care for rural veterans.
In addition, the legislation requires the strategic plan to determine the clinical capacity of VA rural providers and to establish procedures for times when that capacity is exceeded. It also requires a plan for providing health care for women veterans in rural areas, as well as appropriate coordination between VA, the Department of Defense and the Indian Health Service.