VA Moves to Streamline Identification of Rural Land Areas

By VA Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs
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WASHINGTON, August 22, 2014 - In order to more accurately identify and serve rural Veterans, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is improving the method it uses to define urban, rural and highly rural land areas.

"The Department of Veterans Affairs is committed to providing high quality health care to Veterans when and where they need it, including rural and highly rural areas of the country," said Secretary Robert McDonald.  "With this change, we will be better able to deliver services to Veterans when and where they need them."

The current method is being replaced by a more accurate method, modeled on one used by other leading federal agencies. It is anticipated that implementation will begin before October 1, 2014.  The Rural-Urban Commuting Areas (RUCA) system, developed by the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services' Health Resources and Services Administration, has become more accepted because of its sound social science basis and its adaptability for special programs.

"VHA strives to provide high-quality, accessible health care to all enrolled Veterans," said Interim Under Secretary for Health, Dr. Carolyn Clancy.  "However, we must know where rural Veterans live in order to provide adequate access to care. This requires the best possible definition of 'rural' land areas. With this change, VHA will be able to better serve this important Veteran population."

Improving VHA's method for identifying urban, rural and highly rural Veterans will result in more accurate identification of rural Veterans, improved reporting of the number and location of rural Veterans and of statistics on their geographic access to sites of care along with improved allocation of resources and improved research on rural Veterans' needs.

Currently, 3.2 million rural Veterans are enrolled in the VA system, which represents 36 percent of the total enrolled Veteran population.

For a more detailed explanation of the change, visit the VA Office of Rural Health website.