KHI News Service

Future uncertain for VA rural health care pilot program

Moran and other senators voice support for ARCH

By Bryan Thompson | June 17, 2014

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pilot program offering timely, quality health care to rural veterans is being allowed to expire in a few months, even though VA officials tell members of Congress no decision has been made.

The pilot program is called Access Received Closer to Home, or ARCH. It’s offered through five sites across the country, including a Kansas site in Pratt. The program allows veterans to get health care services from community providers if they live at least one hour from a VA health facility.

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U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan.

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Five senators have sent a letter to the VA secretary, asking why the program is ending. The letter reads, in part: “For reasons we do not understand, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is choosing – at VHA’s own initiative – to end this successful program despite the more than 90 percent satisfaction rate communicated by veterans. … All along, the VHA gave us the impression that they were waiting on analysis about the success of ARCH to inform their decision about extending the program – this is a misleading storyline at best. We are deeply disappointed by this breach of trust because those who suffer from this recklessness are veterans.”

In addition to Moran, the letter to Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson is signed by fellow Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Angus King, I-Maine, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and John McCain, R-Ariz.

Moran said veterans and VA employees in Kansas have told him that the national program director for ARCH directed the five pilot sites several months ago to begin contacting veterans who participate in ARCH to let them know the program would be ending. Moran suspects the VA is motivated by financial concerns.

“If they pay for services outside the VA, it’s less money that they’ve had to use within the VA, and of course the focus ought to be on the quality of service and the timely access to care that this kind of program can provide,” he said.

Moran said bipartisan legislation based on the ARCH program is expected to pass Congress and be signed by President Obama. He’s calling on Gibson to halt plans to dismantle the program.

“I believe the VHA intentionally misled my colleagues and I who have sought answers from the VA for months regarding the potential extension of the program,” Moran said in a news release. “On May 22, 2014, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved legislation directing the VA to continue providing medical care through ARCH in fiscal year 2015 using existing authorities.

"In light of this legislative action and the Senate passage of the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 last week, I am seeking Secretary Gibson’s leadership to stop VHA’s plans to dismantle ARCH and make certain that veterans who are currently receiving medical services through ARCH will continue to receive that care.”

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