Bipartisan group of federal lawmakers advocate for more VA health professionals in rural areas

The RURAL Veterans Act would establish an office of rural recruitment in the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Published: Apr. 18, 2022 at 9:29 AM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Back from combat and dealing with health problems is a common issue for our nation’s veterans. Some veterans who live in rural areas say where they live is making 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.

“It’s quite difficult to navigate the VA system as it’s set up, and we have delays anywhere from 60 to 90 days or more before we can get appointments,” said Cantu.

The 76-year-old said he’s being treated for multiple health issues including PTSD and COPD.

“I’m on oxygen 24/7,” said Cantu.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, about 4.7 million veterans return from active service to live in rural areas.

For comparison, 58% of rural veterans are enrolled in the VA health care system that’s 20% higher than the enrollment rate of urban veterans.

Of the rural veterans enrolled, about 55% are older than 65.

Russ Peal is the Director of Workforce Recruitment for Veterans Health and Administration for the VA. Peal said the department engages in an overall push to employ more doctors to treat veterans, but there isn’t a specific program to recruit solely for rural areas.

“We’ve leveraged all the tools and resources we have on our end in aggressive recruitment efforts to attract and get those providers in rural locations,” said Peal.

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

Grothman talks about the need in his home state.

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

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

If passed, the bipartisan legislation would establish an office of rural recruitment in the Department of Veterans Affairs. The office’s purpose would provide a targeted nationwide plan to recruit VA doctors to rural areas and be required to submit annual reports on the status of VA health care.

Lawmakers advocating for the RURAL Veterans Act hope the Veterans Affairs Committee picks the bill up.

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