WASHINGTON — In an effort to save a federal program that has benefited some 1,600 veterans in northern Maine, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King introduced legislation Tuesday to extend Access Received Closer to Home, or ARCH, for another five years.
Without congressional action, funding will expire on Aug. 7 for the program that provides health care services to eligible veterans closer to where they live.
The ARCH program has been operating at Cary Medical Center in Caribou since 2011, when it was one of five facilities in the country selected as a program test site.
The Aroostook site has served about 1,600 local veterans through more than 17,000 medical appointments, according to data provided by the Caribou hospital. The other four ARCH sites are in Farmville, Virginia; Pratt, Kansas; Flagstaff, Arizona; and Billings, Montana.
Both Collins and King are longtime supporters of the program, which veterans are eligible to participate in if, among other criteria, they reside more than 60 minutes’ drive time from the nearest Veterans Administration health care facility providing primary care services or more than 120 minutes’ drive time from the nearest VA facility providing acute hospital care.
“The ARCH program has made such a positive difference for our veterans in Northern Maine. Preserving this local access to health care is one of my top priorities,” Collins said in a statement issued Tuesday. “I cannot overstate how satisfied veterans are with the ARCH program in Maine. It provides high-quality health care to veterans in the area where they live, close to their families, and it is cost-effective.”
King added, “And when a program works so well, as many veterans across The County have told me, it only makes sense to continue it. That’s why the legislation we’re introducing will extend the ARCH program for another five years.”
Without ARCH, veterans in Northern Maine would have to travel up to 600 miles round-trip to access care at the Togus VA Hospital in Augusta.
The VA is seeking to consolidate its various community care programs, including ARCH, into a revised version of the $10 billion Veterans Choice Program, which was passed by Congress after a national 2014 scandal over VA wait times. More than half of eligible Maine veterans, however, have complained that they have experienced difficulties accessing care through this program.
In a letter sent in February, all four members of Maine’s congressional delegation urged Robert McDonald, the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, to continue the ARCH program.