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Rural Health

The American Legion’s System Worth Saving Task Force conducted a six-month report on rural health care that was released in May 2012. To view the report findings and recommendations, please click here.   

About Rural Veterans

  • There are approximately 22 million veterans living in the United States today, and 30 percent of them reside in rural or highly rural areas of the country (as defined by the U.S. Census).
  • As of Sept. 30, 2011, more than 8.3 million veterans were enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs health-care system. Rural veteran account for 3.4 million, or 41 percent, of the total enrolled veteran population. Thus, they make up a disproportionate number of veterans enrolled to receive health care from VA.
  • Veterans from rural areas of the country comprise about 30 percent of our newest veterans: those who served in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn. Many of these men and women are returning to their rural communities upon discharge.
  • The Veterans Health Administration has seen rural veteran enrollment increase by 15 percent since 2006. The largest rural veteran enrollee populations are from the South and the upper Midwest.
  • Rural veterans are, on the average, older than their urban counterparts. Almost half of rural veterans are between the ages of 55 and 74, and approximately 26 percent are over the age of 75.
  • While women make up a relatively small number of enrolled rural veterans (nearly 200,000 rural women veterans are enrolled in VA), their numbers have increased 31 percent since 2006.

About the Office of Rural Health (ORH)

Established by Congress in 2008, the VA Office of Rural Health (ORH) has supported over 800 projects and initiatives to increase access to and quality of health care for rural and highly rural veterans. ORH is focused on: developing new models of specialty care using telehealth and health information technology, expanding geriatric programs and mental health programs into rural areas, opening new rural clinics, reaching out to rural veterans through community partnerships, providing rural health education and training opportunities for health-care professionals and students, and supporting new transportation programs.

ORH is guided by the mission to improve access and quality of care for enrolled rural and highly rural veterans and works to accomplish this mission by developing evidence-based policies and innovative practices to support the unique needs of veterans residing in geographically remote areas. ORH’s strategic goals, associated initiatives, and action items are detailed in the ORH Strategic Plan.

ORH is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and falls under the Veterans Health Administration Office of the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Health for Policy and Planning. ORH Director Mary Beth Skupien and Deputy Director Sheila Warren, along with their staff at headquarters and in the field, direct national ORH activities and communications, as well as oversee the budget and performance of all ORH-funded programs.

There are three regional ORH Veterans Rural Health Resource Centers that serve as field-based clinical laboratories and focus on different aspects of rural health care in the VA. Resource centers design, implement, evaluate and disseminate innovative models of care delivery designed to improve access and quality of care for rural veterans. The Resource centers are located in Salt Lake City, Utah (Western Region); Iowa City, Iowa (Central Region); and Gainesville, Fla; Togus, Maine; and White River Junction, Vt. (Eastern Region). Learn more about the Veterans Rural Health Resource Centers.

In addition, ORH has 21 rural consultants, located in each of the VA’s health-care system networks. Rural consultants assist with the implementation and oversight of local rural health programs. Locate the rural consultant for Your area.

To contact ORH headquarters, please send your inquiry here.  

Visit the ORH website here.

For questions regarding Rural Health programs and initiatives or if you have questions about the System Worth Saving six month report on rural health care, please contact the Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission’s Health Care Policy Unit at (202) 861-2700 or via email at var@legion.org.