Pilot program brings expanded health care access to local veterans, communities

Billings Gazette

by Cindy Uken

Montana veterans are now able to receive VA health care at Humana Veterans Healthcare Service Network Providers through a Department of Veterans Affairs pilot program.

The program is known as Project ARCH, which stands for Access Received Closer to Home.

In response to a call for improved veteran access to private health care providers, Humana Inc. established Humana Veterans Healthcare Services to help veterans get care when it’s not available at their local VA medical center. The program is part of the Veteran’s Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act of 2008 and will be managed through the VA Montana Health Care System in Fort Harrison.

It will provide veterans with greater access to quality care and alleviate some of the stress and pain involved with travel across the 147,046-square-mile state.

“This really is about the VA doing something right,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., “The intent is to determine how to best deliver health care services in the remote, frontier areas of the state.”

There are at least 7,368 veteran patients and 10,709 enrollees residing in the counties involved in this pilot program.

“Montana is home to a high number of veterans who live far from VA facilities,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who supported the legislation. “We owe it to them to make sure getting the care they deserve and have earned is not an additional burden on them and their families.”

The contractor will provide acute inpatient care for medical and surgical specialties. With secondary care provided in Billings, veterans in Eastern Montana will reduce their travel time significantly, up to four hours one way, when compared to their current choice for VA hospitalization at Fort Harrison.

This ARCH pilot program will supplement VA Montana’s Intermediate Complexity Surgical Program, allowing veterans access to providers experienced in complex surgical procedures without traveling to Salt Lake or Denver.

“Veterans traveled the globe in defense of this great nation,” said VA secretary Eric K. Shinseki, who was in Billings last week to tour the VA Clinic. “They shouldn’t have to for the health care they earned with their service.”

In addition to Billings, the pilot program also was awarded to Northern, Maine; Farmville, VA; Pratt, Kan.; and Flagstaff; Ariz. The length of the pilot programs depends on how successful the program is.

Veterans are eligible to participate they reside in a location where a Project ARCH pilot site is located and are enrolled in VA health care when the program starts. In addition the law requires participating veterans meet any of the following criteria:

Live more than 60 minutes drive time from the nearest VA health care facility providing primary care services, or

Live more than 120 minutes drive time from the nearest VA health care facility providing acute hospital care, or

Live more than 240 minutes drive time from the nearest VA health care facility providing tertiary care.