VA health care services expanding in The County

Posted Sept. 30, 2010, at 10:57 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 27, 2011, at 8:54 a.m.

AROOSTOOK — A U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pilot program in northern Maine will allow veterans in that region to receive greater access to health care closer to home.

Rep. Mike Michaud, chairman of the Veterans Health Subcommittee, said in his announcement Thursday that health care services will be contracted with a non-VA provider in Aroostook County.

The pilot program, called Project Access Received Closer to Home, or Project ARCH, was included by Michaud in a bill he worked to pass in 2008 called the Veterans’ Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act.

Project ARCH will be implemented at one site in northern Maine to be named later.

Under the program, veterans are eligible to participate if they reside in a location where a pilot site is located and are enrolled for VA health care when the program starts. They must meet any of the following criteria:

ä Live more than 60 minutes drive time from the nearest VA health care facility providing primary care services.

ä Live more than 120 minutes drive time from the nearest VA health care facility providing acute hospital care.

ä Or live more than 240 minutes drive time from the nearest VA health care facility providing tertiary care.

According to Michaud’s office, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans and veterans who served on active duty in a theater of combat operations or in combat against a hostile force during a period of hostilities after Nov. 11, 1998, do not need to be enrolled for VA health care when Project ARCH starts. However, they will need to meet the above-mentioned drive time criteria and enroll in VA in order to participate in the program.

This is not Michaud’s first effort to secure services for veterans in rural Maine. He was instrumental in bringing the Houlton Access Point Clinic, a community-based outpatient clinic of the Togus Veterans Hospital to Houlton Regional Hospital several years ago.

Michaud said in a written statement that he has “consistently pushed the VA to implement this program since it was passed into law in October 2008.”

“Togus and Boston are so far away for our veterans in northern Maine,” he said. “That’s why it is so important to move forward with this new program to provide care closer to home. It’s taken awhile to get going, but I’m pleased that the VA is implementing it.”

In the coming days, the VA will set up a website for local veterans’ access to additional program information. According to the VA, the County facility with which it will contract will be decided in the coming months, with the program coming fully online in mid-2011.

“Nationally, the idea with this pilot is to increase access to health care to more rural veterans with the hopes that we can expand it in the future,” said Michaud. “A major concern I hear from veterans about, especially those in rural Maine, is the time it takes them to get to a VA facility. While improvements have been made through the opening of clinics, health care access points and mobile clinics, this new program will help increase access even further.”

Data from the pilot program will be evaluated, and recommendations will be made regarding its continuation and possible expansion.

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