More Veterans Centers in rural areas
During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama pledged to open additional Veterans Centers in rural areas. These centers, also known as Readjustment Counseling Centers, are mental health care facilities designed to help veterans readjust to domestic life after deployment.
A bit of background: Inadequate access to health care facilities is a major issue affecting veterans who reside in rural areas. About 3.3 million -- or 41 percent -- of veterans who participate in the VA health care system live in rural locations.. A study commissioned by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs found that distance from a treatment facility is the most significant barrier for veterans in receiving care. The situation is especially problematic for older veterans.
So how has President Obama fared on his promise to open additional Veterans Centers?
We contacted the Department of Veteran Affairs, which told us that it has authorized 29 new centers since President Obama took office in 2009. Of these, 25 are currently open and operational. The remaining 4 are in contractual negotiations. Although all of these serve rural areas, currently 7 are located in locations classified as rural. This includes new facilities in Flathead County, Mont. and American Samoa. The opening of these facilities correlated with a rise in the number of rural outpatient mental health visits -- from 3.4 million in fiscal year 2009 to 3.9 million in fiscal year 2010.
While the number of Veterans Centers located in and serving rural areas clearly has room to grow, we find new centers serving rural areas have opened under Obama's watch. We rate this a Promise Kept.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Vet Centers: Who We Are.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: About the Office of Rural Health.
VHA Office of Rural Health Fact Sheet, Volume 1, Issue 12, November 2011.
U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. The Rural Connection newsletter -- July 2011.
E-mail interview with Veterans Affairs Department.
Already more rural Vet Centers, more coming
The Obama administration's proposed 2010 budget calls for better services for mental health care and cognitive injuries for veterans in rural areas.
"Conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury present major challenges in caring for our nation's veterans," according to a budget fact sheet prepared by the administration. "The president's budget expands the mental health screening and treatment services offered by VA and focuses on reaching veterans in rural areas. VA will increase the number of Vet Centers and mobile health clinics to expand access to mental health screening and treatment in rural areas."
According to a spokesman in the VA office, the federal government will open 39 new veterans centers by the end of 2009, bringing the national total to 271. Consideration of rural areas far from existing services will be included in an analysis to identify sites for new Vet Center in 2010.
We think that's enough to move this promise to In the Works.
Office of Management and Budget, President's Budget: Fact Sheets on Key Issues