Congressman Jared Huffman

Representing the 2nd District of California

Rep. Jared Huffman to VA Secretary: Improve Access to Health Care Resources for Rural North Coast Veterans

Jan 16, 2015
Press Release
Asks VA Secretary to help rural veterans in Humboldt, Trinity, Mendocino, and Sonoma Counties

WASHINGTON­—Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) this week sent a letter 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 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

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,” wrote Huffman.

“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.”

A copy of the letter 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.

Sincerely,

Jared Huffman

Member of Congress