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Local Health Providers to Aid Rural Veterans

Aug. 21, 2017 at midnight

Veteran access to healthcare remains a tough and contentious issue in the US. While already fighting battles against depression, homelessness, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, and higher suicide rates, many veterans must also worry about their place in the healthcare system.

One particular issue that stands out is related to appointments and the long waiting times that come with them. In 2014, the US Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) performed an internal investigation in Phoenix only to find that 35 veterans have died while awaiting treatment.

Because of an outdated scheduling system -- that underwent improvements as of July 2016 -- some veterans in Phoenix even suffered delays of up to a whole year. At the time, Senator John McCain used the words 'unacceptable' and 'reprehensible' when releasing a statement on the subject.

In an effort to solve this issue, President Obama signed the Veterans Choice Program (VCP) into law back in August of 2014. The VCP expands veterans' access to medical care to include community providers. Three years later, in April 2017, Congress passed the bill to extend the program and allow eligible veterans access to these services.

Although the expansion of medical services was a much-needed measure, properly implementing it is an ongoing process. Data from 2016 shows that there wasn't any significant decrease in wait times as over 500 thousand veterans still had to wait for more than a month before seeing a doctor. Roughly 297 thousand veterans even waited up to two months.

While the Veterans' Choice Program may still be far from perfect, data results may improve as more community providers decide to work with the VA. This also holds true for rural areas of the US.

According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, roughly 5.3 million veterans live in rural communities. They make up 24 percent of all veterans in the US. Roughly 57 percent of them benefit from the VA healthcare system.

Roughly 44 percent of the 5.3 million veterans who live in rural areas have at least one condition related to their service while 82 percent of them benefit from other health insurance besides the VA. Almost 435 thousand have served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

While all veterans encounter hurdles on the way to obtaining medical care, those who live in rural areas have a much harder time. Although perhaps closer to extended family, rural veterans are faced with higher poverty rates and hospitals closing down because of financial instability.

Without any facilities close by, rural veterans have long drives ahead of them before they can see a doctor -- sometimes up to six hours, round trip. As more local health providers come to the aid of veterans, the long waiting times and driving times are fortunately very likely to decrease.

In the Crossroads region, The Jackson County Medical Clinic works closely with the Veterans Administration and TriWest/Choice Program to serve veterans as quickly as possible. Regardless of where they reside, same day appointments are available to all veterans.


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