President Trump announced Aug. 3 that the VA is launching a telehealth program that will allow veterans to access medical care from a mobile-phone app. "This will significantly expand access to care for our veterans, especially for those who need help in the area of mental health, which is a bigger and bigger request, and also in suicide prevention," Trump said. "It will make a tremendous difference for the veterans in rural locations in particular."
|Map by The Pew Charitable Trusts (click to enlarge)|
The task of figuring out new strategies for expanding services falls to the VA's Office of Rural Health, which distributes grants to local programs that show nationwide promise. Such programs include "using home-based rehabilitation for veterans who have heart attacks, and using telehealth for patients with HIV or multiple sclerosis," Fifield reports. Another promising initiative is the Volunteers of America North Louisiana program, which uses paid drivers to pick up rural veterans, including those in wheelchairs, from their homes and ferry them to appointments. Older VA programs to transport rural veterans didn't pick up patients from their homes and did not transport patients in wheelchairs. Another program is run by the Nebraska Association of Local Health Directors, which placed 10 coordinators in local health departments to get word out about services available to veterans and teach health-care workers how to identify veterans who need help.
Ultimately though, continued access to Medicaid may be one of the biggest factors in rural veterans' health. Most veterans rely on a mix of VA health insurance and either private insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare. According to a data analysis by Families USA, a health-care advocacy group, more than 1.75 million veterans use Medicaid, and 340,000 were able to enroll because of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Andrea Callow, associate director of Medicaid initiatives at Families USA, told Fifield that, for veterans in rural areas, "Medicaid could mean the difference between them getting care, and them not getting care."