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Veterans' Access Bill Falls Short for Rural Veterans

NRHA is disappointed that final language of the Veterans’ Access, Choice and Accountability Act does not do more to improve access for rural veterans across the nation. Our nation’s veterans are disproportionately from rural America. The legislation had an opportunity to remove significant barriers and allow rural veterans the choice to access quality health care close to their home, yet fell short. A significant barrier for many rural veterans is that there will be no ability to choose a local rural provider, even if they live well over 40 miles from a Veterans Health Administration hospital. This is due to the inclusion of Community-based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs) in the definition of VA medical facility within the Act. There are over 800 CBOCs scattered across the county. These outpatient-only facilities offer varying degrees of limited primary care during limited operating hours.  Including these facilities within the bill virtually negates the intent of providing rural veterans true choice in their health care. NRHA is also disappointed that language was not included to ensure appropriate rural representation on the Commission on Access to Care established within the Act. Rural veterans, like rural Americans in general, are older, poorer and sicker than their urban counterparts and have unique challenges accessing care. Both workforce shortages and sheer geography make the health care delivery in rural areas extremely challenging. Like other health commissions currently charged with reporting to Congress, there should be proper rural representation on the Commission in addition to a representative from the VA Office of Rural Health. For more information on the health needs of rural veterans, please view NRHA's recent policy paper:  Rural Veterans: A Special Concern for Rural Health Advocates

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