Rep. Huffman Announces Department of Veterans Affairs Policy Change—Will Improve Access to Health Care Resources for Rural North Coast Veterans
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) today announced that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will make a change he recommended to improve access to health care for veterans on the rural North Coast. After Huffman sent a letter urging a change to the Veterans Choice Program to VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald earlier this year, VA has announced it will change the calculation used to determine eligibility under the program, thus allowing many veterans on the North Coast to seek timely care from local, private medical providers.
Prior to the change, the Veterans Choice Program allowed veterans living more than 40 miles “as the crow flies” from the nearest VA medical facility to seek 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, were required to 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. VA has announced that the calculation used to determine the distance between a Veteran’s residence and the nearest VA medical facility will change from a straight line distance to driving distance. This change is estimated to double the number of Veterans eligible for the program.
“Many of the veterans I represent on the North Coast were deemed ineligible for the Veterans Choice Program simply because of the mountainous nature of our rural region, leaving them unable to access medical care without driving upwards of one and a half hours,” Huffman said. “On behalf of more than 1,700 veterans who live in these areas, I thank Secretary McDonald for helping veterans on the North Coast get the health care they deserve from local, private medical providers.”
In his previous letter, Huffman asked Secretary McDonald to reclassify the following localities as “geographically inaccessible,” which would automatically qualify resident veterans for access to local, private care paid for by the Veterans Health Administration:
- Willow Creek in Humboldt County;
- Junction City and Burnt Ranch in Trinity County;
- Fort Bragg, Mendocino, Gualala, and Point Arena in Mendocino County;
- Annapolis, Sea Ranch, and Stewart’s Point in Sonoma County
Huffman’s January 13 letter to Secretary McDonald can be found below:
January 13, 2015
Secretary Robert A. McDonald
Department of Veteran’s Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary McDonald,
Thank you for the hard work you are doing on behalf of veterans across the country in implementing the VA Choice Act. I am writing on behalf of my constituents living in the rural counties of Humboldt, Trinity, Mendocino, and Sonoma who should fall under the category of “geographically inaccessible” and require your authority for the classification.
The towns of Willow Creek in Humboldt County; Junction City and Burnt Ranch in Trinity County; Fort Bragg, Mendocino, Gualala, and Point Arena in Mendocino County; and Annapolis, Sea Ranch, and Stewart’s Point in Sonoma County are all within 40 miles of the nearest VA medical facility. However, 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.
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 Veteran’s Choice program.
Thank you for your consideration on this matter. I look forward to your response.
Member of Congress