Veterans Choice isn't the only way the VA improves care for rural veterans

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The VA is looking into new care delivery options for veterans in rural communities.

The Choice program may be grabbing headlines, but it’s not the only project underway at the Veterans Administration to improve care for rural veterans.

Nearly a quarter of veterans live in rural parts of the United States, according to research from the Pew Charitable Trusts. That compares to only 1 in 5 adults in the general population, and it means issues affecting rural healthcare hit veterans especially hard.

High utilization and cost overruns required the Senate to issue emergency funding to extend the VA’s Choice program, which allows veterans to seek care from private providers when they live more than 40 miles from a VA clinic, for another six months. Lawmakers and veterans have expressed frustration with elements of the program, and the VA is actively exploring additional ways to better serve rural veterans.

RELATED: VA expands telehealth services with new ‘Anywhere to Anywhere’ initiative

The magnitude of the problem will also require thinking outside the box, according to Margaret Puccinelli, chairwoman of the Veterans Rural Health Advisory Committee. “Because of the geographic isolation for many vets that are eligible, you have to approach it as creatively as possible,” she told the publication. Part of that creativity has led the VA Office of Rural Health to fund a series of pilot programs with the intent to roll them out nationally:

  • VA Secretary David Shulkin announced an expanded telehealth initiative that allows VA doctors anywhere in the country to provide care to veterans remotely via VA Video Connect. The tool represents a collaboration between the VA and the White House’s American Office of Innovation, according to Wired.
  • Volunteers of America North Louisiana developed a transportation program to help disabled veterans in rural areas get to and from their appointments, saving them $400,000 in collective travel expenses, according to the Pew report.
  • The Office of Rural Health reportedly has seen success with home-based rehabilitation care for veterans who have had heart attacks.
  • The Nebraska Association of Local Health Directors designed a referral program to help local health departments guide veterans toward appropriate VA services.