Reps. Huffman, Case, Grothman Reintroduce Rural Veterans Act to Improve Health Care for Veterans

April 06, 2022

Washington, D.C. – Today, Representatives Jared Huffman (D-CA), Ed Case (D-HI), and Glenn Grothman (R-WI) reintroduced the bipartisan 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.

“Veterans deserve quality VA care and should not be left behind because they live in rural areas. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the hurdles servicemembers have been facing when it comes to receiving adequate health care, paramount of which is understaffing,” 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 who 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.”

“Physician and specialty care provider shortages have disproportionately impacted our veterans living throughout the many forms of rural America,” said Congressman Ed Case. “In my own Pacific, as one example, where over 40% of our VHA-enrolled veterans live in rural areas with little to no access to certain specialty care providers, the VA serves as a critical provider of these services. Specialty provider shortages in such rural communities are very acutely felt, and compound the already-higher rates of poverty and poorer health for our rural veterans than their urban counterparts. The RURAL Veterans Act would be a lifesaver for our roughly 4.7 million veterans from rural areas who deserve the best care we can provide.”

“Far too often, veterans living in rural areas have a lower quality of care and longer wait times based solely on their geographic location. It is also a wrongful burden that these veterans must travel so far to receive health care, whereas non-veterans often have quality health care right in their communities. We should be doing more to ensure the brave men and women who have served our country are being properly taken care of. I am proud to join Congressman Huffman in introducing the RURAL Veterans Act to improve the quality of care for America’s veterans,” said Congressman Grothman.

“The VFW understands the unique challenges in rural health care for veterans and providers. The lack of access to timely care can be problematic for many rural veterans. VA continues to see a critical shortage of health care providers in rural areas. This proposal would place a special emphasis on rural healthcare by focusing on how to overcome the challenges in hiring and retaining health care 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 Tammy Barlet, Deputy Director, VFW National Legislative Service. 

Most 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). Rural veterans are significantly older and more medically complex: they are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and heart conditions that require more frequent, ongoing, and costly care. Although telehealth is a helpful supplemental modality of care, it cannot replace in-person visits with trusted clinicians for these older, medically fragile veterans in rural areas.

Text of the legislation can be found here.