Senate Appropriations Committee Approves Two-Year Extension of ARCH Program

WASHINGTON, D.C.— U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee and the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, announced today that the fiscal year (FY) 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill included a two-year extension of the Access Received Closer to Home (ARCH) Program.  Senator Collins has strongly advocated for the extension of this vital, successful, and cost-effective program that provides critical health care to Northern Maine veterans.  Absent congressional action, the pilot program would have expired on August 7, 2016. 

“I cannot overstate how satisfied veterans are with the ARCH program in Maine.  I’ve heard from countless Maine veterans about the extraordinary success of ARCH in eliminating long and difficult travel, reducing wait times, and providing access to high-quality care in their own communities,” said Senator Collins.  “Preserving this local access to health care is one of my top priorities, and I am so pleased that this true lifeline for Maine’s veterans will be extended.”

The ARCH program has been operating at Cary Medical Center in Caribou since 2011.  According to Cary Medical Center, the program serves more than 1,300 local veterans and has provided in excess of 17,000 medical appointments since its inception.  More than 90 percent of veterans participating in ARCH are overwhelmingly satisfied with their access to care and the medical services they receive.  In addition, according to the VA’s own figures, the average cost per veteran in Maine using the ARCH program is less than half the average cost for VHA direct care.  Without the ARCH program, veterans in Northern Maine would have to travel up to 600 miles roundtrip to access care at the Togus VA Hospital in Augusta.

Senator Collins has strongly advocated for the ARCH program to ensure that our rural veterans have local access to the health care they have earned.  Senator Collins, along with Senator Angus King, introduced bipartisan legislation this March to allow the ARCH program to continue operating through 2021. Last month, Senator Collins also met with Deputy Secretary Gibson in her Washington, D.C., office to emphasize the vital importance of extending the ARCH program.

This February, Senators Collins and Angus King and Representatives Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald regarding the implementation of the Choice Program.  The letter urged Secretary McDonald to ensure that all veterans in Maine receive timely care, to continue the successful ARCH program, and to incorporate the successes of that program into the VA’s larger community care model. 

In addition, in October 2015, Senators Collins, King, and Jerry Moran (R-KS) wrote to VA Secretary Robert McDonald, urging him to provide support for the crucial ARCH program for veterans who live in rural communities. 

The two-year ARCH extension was approved during the Committee’s consideration of the FY 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill, which provides resources for veterans’ benefits and programs and makes funding available for military construction projects. Senator Collins voted in favor of the bill, which was approved unanimously and now awaits final consideration by the full Senate.