Huffman Asks VA Secretary to Improve Access to Health Care Resources for Rural North Coast Veterans
U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) sent a letter last week to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald urging him to improve access to health care for veterans on the rural North Coast under the new Veterans Choice Program, authorized by Congress in last year’s Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act.
The Veterans Choice Program allows veterans living more than 40 miles “as the crow flies” from the nearest VA medical facility to seek timely care from local, private medical providers. However, veterans living in a number of localities in Humboldt, Trinity, Mendocino and Sonoma counties, although they technically reside within 40 miles of the nearest VA medical facility, must travel significantly farther due to the winding and indirect nature of many rural roads on the North Coast, making them ineligible for the new program.
In his letter, Huffman asked McDonald to reclassify Willow Creek, Burnt Ranch and Junction City, as well as parts of Mendocino and Sonoma counties, as “geographically inaccessible,” which would automatically qualify resident veterans for access to local, private care paid for by the Veterans Health Administration.
“Due to the mountainous nature of our rural region, the driving mileage for these locations is anywhere from 50-80 miles via actual roads, and the drive time is upwards of one and a half hours. These communities are all located along Highway 299 and Highway 1, which can be treacherous, especially in the winter,” Huffman wrote in the letter to McDonald.
“On behalf of more than 1,700 veterans who live in these areas, I request that you designate these localities as ‘geographically inaccessible’ and make this group eligible for the Veterans Choice Program,” Huffman wrote.