Tester to VA: Dont end initiative improving veterans health care
Senator calls out VA for prematurely ending ARCH program that improves access to care
(U.S. SENATE) – With some veterans experiencing problems accessing health care, Senator Jon Tester is calling out the Department of Veterans Affairs for ending a successful initiative that is getting more rural veterans the care they earned.
Tester today told Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson that the VA should not end its Access Received Closer to Home (ARCH) Program. ARCH, a pilot program Tester helped establish in Billings and Anaconda, lets rural veterans use health care services from community providers if they live at least one hour from a VA medical facility.
While thousands of Montana veterans receive care at VA clinics, some are forced to drive hundreds of miles to the nearest VA clinic. ARCH has been hugely successful in increasing access to care for veterans living in rural Montana.
“Veterans are overwhelmingly satisfied with this program and the medical services they are receiving, which falls directly in line with your agency initiative to ‘accelerate access to care’ for veterans,” Tester and his colleagues told Gibson. “We strongly urge you stop plans to dismantle ARCH and make certain that veterans will continue to receive care.”
Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, is a long-time supporter of ARCH, pushing the VA to make Montana one of the initiative’s test sites. ARCH also operates in parts of Maine, Arizona, Kansas and Virginia.
“We’ve come to learn that the VA has made plans to prematurely dismantle a program proven to be tremendously successful in connecting more Montana veterans to the care they need,” Tester said. “It is time for the VA to work with Congress on enhancing veterans’ access to care through an extension of this program, not to create uncertainty for those who have come to greatly rely upon the care it provides.”
As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Tester in May helped pass legislation directing the VA to continue ARCH into 2015. To improve veterans’ overall access to care and increase accountability at the VA, Tester joined a bipartisan group of Senators in passing comprehensive legislation that, among other provisions:
- Forces the VA to identify staffing shortages and gives the Department authority to fill those positions
- Allows veterans to seek care from outside the VA system
- Requires the VA to publish wait time goals for every VA medical center
Tester’s bipartisan letter is also signed by Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine).