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Rural Veterans - Honoring...and Covering?...Those Who Serve

vietnam_veterans_memorial_in_washington_dcOn this Veterans Day, we take a break to honor brave, honorable Americans past, present and future.  Though we often refer to our Capitol Hill strategy as a "fight" for rural health reform, this effort is minuscule next to that of our courageous veterans who have fought for our ability to go about our daily routines.  So first and foremost, the NRHA offers our humble, sincere appreciation and gratitude to all veterans who so selflessly put our safety - the safety of our nation - before their own.

Notwithstanding the great sacrifice ALL veterans make wherever they are from, as past NRHA President Hilda Heady stated in her testimony to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee earlier this year:

"whether motivated by their values, patriotism, or economic concerns... rural Americans serve at rates higher than their proportion of the population."

In fact, she continues:

"Though only 19% of the nation lives in rural areas, 44% of U.S. Military recruits are from rural America."

Factoring this in with the disparities all rural Americans face when it comes to their health and access to health services, rural veterans are at an even greater disadvantage than their urban counterparts. Though some are covered by the VA for their health care needs, many veterans who often find themselves either uninsured, hundreds of miles away from the nearest VA hospital, or both.  A common misconception is that ALL veterans receive health coverage from the VA. This is simply not true.  Disabled veterans injured in the direct line of duty are covered, and the VA also imposes means tests on certain low-income vets, with a tiered system that give vets at a higher income level but still within the range of the means test - apparently they are are "less poor" - diminished priority. Additionally, the scarcity of proper mental and family counseling services further compounds these problems for many veterans coping with the mental trials associated with their service. The majority of these uninsured rural veterans then, once they return home and resume working for a living, are too poor to afford proper health insurance, but "not poor enough" to qualify for Medicaid or extra assistance from the VA. A report just released by Harvard Medical School estimates that 2,266 U.S. military veterans under the age of 65 died last year because they lacked health insurance. Let me emphasize...this figure is not referring to the total number of rural vets that died last year, merely those who died solely because they lacked health coverage. The group also found that 1.46 million vets between the ages of 18 and 64 were uninsured in 2008. These numbers were also coupled in the report with recent findings from the American Journal of Public Health that being uninsured raises an individual's odds of dying by 40 percent (causing 44,798 deaths in the United States annually among those aged 17 to 64). With Congressional health reform in full swing, many experts are worried the current legislation in Congress will not do enough to help rural veterans. The NRHA strongly supports solutions that meet the challenges of providing quality care to our rural veterans.  Please download Hilda Heady's entire testimony here for more information on issues that MUST be a priority for the Administration and Congress to address the current disparities in health care for rural veterans.

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