Reaching Out to Three Million “Rural” Veterans

VA has a Unique Office Improving their Access to Care

Are you a Veteran living where there are more trees than people? More prairie than pavement?

We know that Veterans make their homes everywhere, and that many prefer wide open spaces to urbanized places. That’s why VA has the Office of Rural Health.

The Office of Rural Health strives to improve access and quality of care for enrolled rural and highly rural Veterans, to support the unique needs of enrolled Veterans who live in geographically remote areas.

Over 40% of VA’s Enrolled Vets are Rural

About 3.4 million Veterans (41% of the total) enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care System are considered “rural” by the U.S. Census definition. These Veterans make up a disproportionate share of Servicemembers and comprise about 39% of the enrolled Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom are returning to their rural communities.

Individuals living in rural areas face some unique barriers to access health care, including limited options for health care services, a lack of specialized care and an inadequate number of health care providers working in rural areas, or a lack of health insurance. One major challenge being addressed by the Office of Rural Health is the need to travel long distances to health care facilities.

Dr. Mary Beth Skupien, Director of the Office of Rural Health, says, “We have the commitment to use technology to bring care closer to the Veterans, either in their community or their home.”

A study by the Department of Health and Human Services estimates that half of the adults living in rural areas suffer from a chronic health condition. Some rural Veterans may experience additional health complications associated with combat exposure, such as posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, or traumatic brain injury. VA is working hard to help make sure rural Veterans can access the same high quality care as their urban counterparts.

“We have the commitment to use technology to bring care closer to the Veterans, either in their community or their home.”

— Dr. Mary Beth Skupien,
Director of the Office of Rural Health

Dr. Skupien notes that, “We spent about 95 million dollars in the last two years improving access to care with the use of telehealth services, such as telerehabilitation services, primary care telehealth services, telemental health, teledermatology, and the Tele-MOVE weight loss support program.

“We have over 300 projects throughout the United States.”

Providing access to health care for rural Vets is an ongoing priority with VA. There are currently more than 800 VA community-based outpatient clinics (CBOCs). Almost half of these clinics are located in rural areas.

Just recently, VA announced plans to expand or open 13 CBOCs in nine states.

Eight of these 13 community clinics will be located in rural areas: Tifton (Tift County), Ga.; St. Mary’s, Md.; Marshfield (Webster County), Mo.; Sanford (Lee County), Miss.; Georgetown (Brown County), Ohio; Grants Pass (Josephine County), Ore.; Huntingdon, Pa.; and Indiana, Pa.

The first of the new CBOCs will become operational during the latter part of 2012, with openings continuing through 2015.

As Dr. Skupien emphasizes, “I am your best advocate. Our office exists to serve the rural Veteran.”Read Dr. Skupien's blog post to learn more about VA’s commitment to rural Vets.

And read all the information about the Office of Rural Health.