(Salt Lake City, UT) Utah is home to nearly 130,000 veterans and more than 33,000 of them live in Utah’s rural counties. Veterans choose rural communities for a number of reasons: closer to family, friends, and community; access to outdoor recreation; more privacy; lower cost of living; or less crowded towns and schools. While veterans may like the benefits of rural living, they may also experience rural health care challenges intensified by combat-related injuries and illnesses.
Recently, the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) Office of Primary Care and Rural Health (OPCRH) was awarded the Rural Veterans Health Access Program from the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA). Utah was one of only three states to win the award which is designed to improve health care access for veterans who live in rural areas. The OPCRH will receive $900,000 over a 3-year period. To that end, the OPCRH has established a Rural Veteran Coalition to bring together rural health care stakeholders and Veterans Administration (VA) administrators to create a network of resources and trainings to bridge the gap between local health care organizations and the VA. The OPCRH will be offering two sub-grants each year for $25,000 for communities to help increase access to care for veterans living in their community. For more information, please visit: https://ruralhealth.health.utah.gov/rural-veterans-health-access-program-rvhap/.
Matt McCullough, director of the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) Office of Primary Care and Rural Health (OPCRH) says when writing the application for the grant, he was reminded of VA motto, a quote from Abraham Lincoln which says “To bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” McCullough says, “I believe Utah has a duty to provide better health care service for our state’s veterans.”
Outside the Wasatch Front, the highest concentration of rural veterans live in the rural and frontier counties of Garfield, Piute, Kane, and Washington. Being geographically isolated with complicated terrain, long travel distances, and few resources available, Utah’s rural health care organizations provide vital services to their communities. Unfortunately, since veteran populations have a disproportionally higher prevalence of cancer, COPD, diabetes, hearing loss, hypertension, and mental health disorders than non-veteran populations, improving access to readily available health care is a necessity.
Due to the critical services provided in Utah’s rural communities, Utah Governor Gary Herbert has declared November 18–22, 2019 as Rural Health Week in Utah. For more information about rural health in Utah visit httpw://ruralhealth.health.utah.gov.
Utah Department of Health