In the News

Partnerships lead the way in providing care to rural Kansas veterans

Special to the Wichita Eagle | Tony Leiding

The highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 has placed a renewed spotlight on healthcare in rural communities and caused a resurgence of concerns about whether we are properly equipped to handle the new cases. Concerns are so high, in fact, that the federal government announced recently it plans to give more than $23 million to Kansas’ rural hospitals to prepare.

That funding could prove vital, given how earlier surges in new cases pushed rural hospitals to their limit. However, it will take more moving forward to make sure that the people who live in these rural areas have access to the healthcare they need, especially our nation’s veterans.

Living in less populated rural areas can make it difficult for patients to access basic care, and veterans are especially susceptible to this since they are more likely to live in rural parts of the country. Whether it is the COVID-19 pandemic or any of the other broader challenges for rural patients, there is a serious access problem for the women and men who have served.

These issues are of particular concern for states like Kansas, which more than 165,000 veterans call home. Veterans are valued members of our community, and it’s our obligation to help bridge some of the gaps they encounter when trying to get the care they need.

That’s why it’s refreshing when lawmakers, like Kansas’ own Sen. Jerry Moran, not only acknowledge these challenges but work to alleviate them. Earlier this year, Moran introduced a bill that would ease some of the major obstacles facing rural veterans by making telehealth services more readily available, along with other programs designed to reach veterans who live in places that may not be near a hospital.

While bills like this are certainly a good start, it will still take more to make sure that we are actively working to reduce the barriers that rural veterans face. More than just government action, it will take collaboration between the government and private industry to come up with achievable, innovative answers to some of rural healthcare’s toughest questions.

It’s a process we’re already watching play out first-hand here in Kansas. Just this year, it was announced that the Department of Veterans Affairs would expand its Accessing Telehealth through Local Area Stations program, which is designed to make telehealth services more easily accessible to rural veterans, to Kansas. Working with the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Philips North America, the VA uses the program to install telehealth pods in local American Legion and VFW posts, meaning veterans don’t have to trek to the nearest VA hospital – sometimes hundreds of miles away – for basic care.

As Sen. Moran himself noted, it’s an important step to ensure that those who served our country can get the level and quality of healthcare they deserve no matter where they call home. We need Moran and other lawmakers in Washington to continue to support measures that foster these types of private-public partnerships seeking to expand veterans’ access to healthcare and enable them to succeed.

The past year has shown that there are still some considerable hurdles to get over as we try to make the necessary healthcare services available to our nation’s veterans. Partnerships like the ATLAS program are showing us, however, that they are hurdles we can overcome, so long as they have the support they need from the country’s leaders.

Tony Leiding is a U.S. Army veteran from Wichita whose service included deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. He works for a Wichita-based energy company.