Rep. Huffman Introduces RURAL Veterans Act to Improve Health Care for Veterans

Legislation Addresses Access and Quality of Care for Veterans in Rural Communities

November 13, 2019

Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, Representative Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) introduced the Recruiting in Underserved Rural Areas and Localities for Veterans (RURAL Veterans) Act to address the shortage of Veterans Administration medical professionals in rural areas, where almost a quarter of veterans live. The new legislation will create an Office of Rural Recruitment in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that would provide a focused and targeted nationwide plan for recruiting VA doctors to rural areas. This office will also be required to submit annual reports on the status of rural VA health care to make sure the department is  meeting its goals. 

Fifty-eight percent of rural veterans are enrolled in the VA health care system, but there are far fewer VA doctors who work and stay in rural Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs). In 2018 almost 13% of the positions in the VA were unfilled, with most of those shortages  in rural areas. Veterans often travel long distances to areas with VA doctors, and the doctors who do currently serve in rural communities are tasked with serving an increased number of patients.

“This is a critical issue for veterans in rural communities, and none of them should have to travel hours to receive the basic care they deserve. While the VA is focused on telemedicine as a solution to this issue, the VA needs to develop concrete plans to increase in-person doctors and staff. I frequently hear from veterans that their care is better and more complete when they are seen by practitioners in person. We are focusing attention where it belongs:  on ensuring that rural VA facilities are adequately staffed,” Rep. Huffman said. 

Staffing shortages and band-aid solutions ultimately lead to low quality care, longer wait times, and disrupt veterans’ overall access to necessary health care. We can do better for the men and women that served our country. The RURAL Veterans Act will address the VA’s chronic inability to recruit and retain physicians and other health care providers to clinics that serve rural communities. With the centralized Office of Rural Recruitment, we can help ensure rural clinics have the staff they need to serve our veterans. Veterans deserve quality VA care, and should not be left behind because they live in rural areas,” he concluded. 

“The VFW understands the special challenges in rural healthcare, for both patients and providers. The lack of access to timely care can be a difficult problem for many rural veterans. This proposal would place a special emphasis on rural healthcare by focusing on how to overcome the challenges in hiring medical professionals in these areas. The VFW thanks Representative Huffman for his efforts to provide quality health care to veterans in rural areas, and his continued work to care for veterans, military, and their families,” said Pat Murray, Deputy Director VFW National Legislative Service. 

“Rural veterans have been underserved due to a lack of access to health care, which can be heavily attributed to the lack of qualified health care professionals in rural areas,” said Melissa Bryant, National Legislative Director for The American Legion. “We must do more to recruit and retain health care professionals in these underserved communities. The American Legion is proud to support this legislation as a critical step towards solving this shortage of medical professionals.”