Bipartisan Group of Federal Lawmakers Advocates for More VA Health Professionals in Rural Areas

WASHINGTON (Gray DC) – Coming back from combat and health issues are a common problem for our country’s veterans. Some veterans who live in rural areas say where they live makes it more difficult to access and receive Veterans Affairs health care.

Vietnam War veteran Eric Cantu lives in rural Lenoir County, North Carolina. The nearest VA clinic is about 40 minutes away.

“The VA system is quite difficult to navigate as it is set up, and we have delays of 60 to 90 days or more before we can get appointments,” Cantu said.

The 76-year-old said he was being treated for multiple health conditions including PTSD and COPD.

“I’m on oxygen 24/7,” Cantu said.

According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, about 4.7 million veterans returned from active duty to live in rural areas.

For comparison, 58% of rural veterans are enrolled in the VA health system which is 20% higher than the enrollment rate of urban veterans.

Among registered rural veterans, approximately 55% are over 65 years of age.

Russ Peal is the director of Veterans Health and Administration Workforce Recruitment for the VA. Peal said the department is embarking on an overall push to employ more doctors to treat veterans, but there is no specific program to recruit just for rural areas.

“We have leveraged all the tools and resources we have on our side in aggressive recruiting efforts to attract and bring these suppliers to rural areas,” Peal said.

Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) is among a group of lawmakers advocating for bipartisanship Rural Veterans Act to address what the group calls a shortage of Veterans Administration health professionals in rural areas.

Grothman talks about the needs in his home country.

“I think we can always use more,” he said. “We have a VA center in Cleveland, Wisconsin with Lake Michigan, and I’m sure they can benefit from that program.”

In a statement, Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) said “shortages of specialty providers in these rural areas are very acutely felt and exacerbate already higher poverty rates.”

If passed, the bipartisan legislation would establish a rural recruiting office within the Department of Veterans Affairs. The purpose of the office would provide a targeted national plan to recruit VA physicians to rural areas and would be required to submit annual reports on the status of VA health care.

Lawmakers who champion the RURAL Veterans Act hope the Veterans Affairs Committee will take up the bill.

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