U.S. veterans living in rural and isolated areas will get improved access to health care thanks in part to $983,100 in grants just announced by the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Veterans Affairs (VA).
According to VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the grant money will be used to improve access and coordination of veterans' care by further enhancing VA telehealth and HHS state health information exchanges in rural areas.
Virginia, Montana and Alaska - the three states with the highest density of veterans living in isolated rural areas -- will each receive about $300,000 to help them implement or upgrade their veteran's telehealth capabilities. The VA believes that when fully implemented nationwide, its telehealth system will be capable of providing at least 1.2 million medical consultations annually for veterans who would otherwise have to travel long distances to access health care services.
"This is an outstanding example of a partnership that expands access to care and improves quality of life for rural veterans," said VA Secretary Shinseki in a press release. "Working with partners like HHS, VA will continue to increase the reach of our services beyond our 152 major medical centers to ensure veterans receive the care they have earned and deserve."
A provision of the Honoring America's Veterans of 2012, signed by President Obama on August 6, 2012, authorized the VA to waive co-payments for veterans who utilize VA telehealth services and required the VA to consider reimbursing the travel expenses of rural veterans who choose to receive care at their nearest VA Vet Center.
The joint effort of the VA and HHS to improve access to health care for isolated veterans is part of the work of the White House Rural Council, established in 2011 to address challenges faced by all rural Americans.
"The Obama administration is committed to doing all that we can to provide rural veterans the care they need closer to home," said HHS Secretary Sebelius. "As more combat veterans return home, HHS and VA are partnering to provide vital health care and treatment to reduce the distance some veterans have to travel."