August 14, 2021 by News Report

WASHINGTON, D.C. | On Aug. 12, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik joined colleagues in sending a bipartisan letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough urging him to prioritize care for veterans in rural areas, who have faced challenges accessing quality care because many VA resources are devoted to urban areas.

“The veterans of the North Country – and across America – should never be punished or neglected for living in rural areas,” Stefanik said in a subsequent statement. “I am proud to take initiative to improve access for all veterans to VA services no matter where they live. We must never fall behind in keeping our promises to our service members who have made the sacrifice to uphold our freedoms as Americans.”

In the letter, the members of Congress point out areas of improvement to improve access for rural veterans through creative solutions, cross-agency collaboration, public-private partnerships, and improved rural broadband.

An excerpt of the letter read:

“Each and every veteran that serves our country deserves to have easy access to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) care and benefits that they have rightfully earned. While many veterans choose to retire and work in communities with close access to a VA facility, almost a quarter of all Veterans in the United States return from military careers to reside in rural communities. We want to work with you to ensure that these veterans in our district, and countless others, are not excluded because of where they choose to live.

According to the VA Office of Rural Health, 4.7 million veterans choose to live in rural communities. They do this for many reasons, including proximity to friends and family, open space for leisure, increased privacy, and lower cost of living. There are many benefits to rural living, but unfortunately, these veterans have historically faced significant challenges when trying to receive quality care. These issues are only amplified when considering these veterans’ service-connected conditions or injuries.

The issues that rural veterans face are not due to neglect, or a lack of desire for quality care. In fact, 58 percent of rural Veterans are enrolled in the VA health care system, which is 21 percent higher than the enrollment rate for urban veterans. Despite this fact, compared to urban areas, rural communities have less access to care, fewer physician practices, less overall infrastructure to support the level of care needed, fewer transportation options, greater distance barriers, and limited broadband internet.

While we appreciate the VA’s work in establishing the Office of Rural Health, as directed by Congress through passage of the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006, we want to ensure that we all do our part to continue to provide quality care for those who bravely served our country. As such, it is imperative that we identify ways to increase the overall access to care for veterans in rural communities through cross-agency collaboration, public-private partnerships, and improved rural broadband. We were pleased that the VA’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget request included increased funding for telehealth services and rural veteran transportation services. We look forward to working with you to ensure these initiatives are supported with adequate funding to improve healthcare outcomes for veterans.”

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