VA is committed to providing high quality health care to Veterans, including those living in rural areas, during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.
While COVID-19 has affected the lives of all Americans, the challenges facing rural communities during the pandemic leave residents particularly vulnerable. Almost 5 million of our country’s veterans live in small communities.
In recognition of the 10th annual National Rural Health Day, VA’s Office of Rural Health (ORH) highlights the resources available to support the health and well-being of all who inhabit a rural community.
Ensure continuity of care for veterans
As the nation’s largest telehealth provider, VA is equipped to virtually connect veterans with the care they need. Telehealth offers a convenient alternative to in-person care that reduces veterans’ COVID-19 exposure and travel time. To meet the unique health care needs of rural veterans, ORH funds a variety of telehealth programs, such as tele-intensive units, tele-primary care, and tele-mental health centers.
Provide free training and resources to community providers, including those in rural areas
As part of VA’s fourth mission efforts to combat transmission of COVID-19, the department expanded health care services and resources to non-veterans and community providers, resulting in:
- Over 8,000 contact hours of COVID-19 webinar training
- Over 2,000 VA staff supporting non-VA facilities
- A with tailored COVID-19 advice for community providers
Prioritize mental health in rural communities
Mental health and suicide prevention resources help save lives. These tools are especially critical for rural veterans. They face a 20% higher risk of suicide than their urban counterparts.
To enhance VHA’s ongoing awareness to all veterans, ORH is funding a company-wide initiative that focuses on suicide prevention. In fiscal 2020, this program expanded to 12 locations that collectively reached over 101,000 Veterans.
Suspend Debt Collections for VA Medical Care
In recognition of the economic impact of COVID-19, VA has suspended medical debt collection until December 31, 2020. This temporary debt relief can be particularly impacting in rural communities. More than half of rural veterans earn less than $ 35,000 a year. VA also has financial hardship programs to help veterans who may be struggling to settle debt collections.
Develop innovative tools to support the VHA workforce
The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is committed to equipping its staff with the appropriate tools and resources to provide high quality health care to our country’s Veterans and members of the community.
In response to the pandemic, VHA developed the COVID-19 Rural Health Decision Support Tool – a dashboard that provides mission-critical information that allows users to examine key trends and predict future challenges. By expanding access to life-saving resources, training, and medical supplies, VA continues to support all providers and the Americans they care for during the pandemic, regardless of their veteran status.
If you are a veteran in a crisis or are concerned about a veteran, free and confidential support is available 24/7. Call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, text 838255 or chat online.
For frequently asked questions to veterans about COVID-19, visit: https://www.va.gov/coronavirus-veteran-frequently-asked-questions/
For more information on COVID-19 mental health resources, visit: https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/coronavirus.
To learn more about ORH, visit: https://www.ruralhealth.va.gov.
Thomas Klobucar is Executive Director of the VA Office of Rural Health.