Tester pushes VA for improvements to veterans pilot health initiative

Senator calls for department to streamline Project ARCH, support community health providers

(SIDNEY, Mont.) – Senator Jon Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, is calling on the VA to streamline its pilot health initiative Project ARCH (Access Received Closer to Home) so rural Montana veterans continue to get better access to health care.

Project ARCH allows veterans in rural areas to receive care in their local communities instead of traveling to Ft. Harrison in Helena. Care is provided through a non-VA health care provider if the veteran lives a certain distance from a VA health facility. While ARCH – tested in Billings and Anaconda – is reducing wait times and increasing access for veterans, community healthcare providers have experienced administrative issues and reimbursement problems with an insurer.

As a result, Tester is pushing the VA to contract directly with service providers at each ARCH site, saying the change would make the program more efficient and reduce administrative hurdles.

“In a rural state like Montana, where one in ten is a veteran, we must fix any hurdles to getting folks the care they earned,” Tester said. “I urge the VA to do everything it can to streamline this process to prevent any delays or reimbursement issues that could jeopardize veterans receiving needed care. We must move forward in a way that strengthens ARCH’s ability to serve veterans.”

The VA’s Office of Rural Health implemented Project ARCH in five states, including Montana, because veterans in rural areas traditionally lack access to care, often because of the long distances to health care facilities, the lack of specialized care, and an inadequate number of health care providers working in rural areas. In Billings, more than 90 percent of veterans who received primary care through ARCH were “completely satisfied” with their care, citing significantly shortened travel and wait times.

Tester, who served on the veterans conference committee that extended Project ARCH to the fall of 2016, has been a staunch supporter of the initiative.

Tester’s letter to the VA Under Secretary for Health, Carolyn Clancy, is available

Tester Project ARCH letter to VA Under Secretary Clancy by senatortester