Senator Collins Meets with Top VA Official to Underscore Vital Importance, Success of ARCH Program for Northern Maine Veterans

More than 90 percent of veterans participating in ARCH are overwhelmingly satisfied with their access to care and the medical services they receive

Click HERE for a high resolution photo of Senator Collins showing Deputy Secretary Gibson the distance between northern Maine and Togus

Click HERE to see the map Senator Collins used in the meeting to demonstrate the distance

 

Washington, D.C.—U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) met with Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson in her Washington, D.C., office this morning to emphasize the vital importance of extending the Access Received Closer to Home (ARCH) Program.  Senator Collins has consistently urged the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to articulate a clear vision for the future of this critically important program and work to ensure that all veterans have the choice of receiving the health care they need close to home and their families.

“The ARCH Program has made such a difference for our veterans in northern Maine and in the other pilot projects in four other states.  Preserving this local access to care is one of my top priorities,” said Senator Collins.  “This morning, I told Deputy Secretary Gibson the story of Aroostook County veteran Peter Miesburger, who was able to use the ARCH program to receive emergency surgery for a broken hip at the height of a terrible winter storm. Instead of enduring a painful and bumpy ride for more than eight hours and 500 miles roundtrip to reach the VA hospital in Augusta, he was able to receive care at his local hospital, Cary Medical Center in Caribou, through the ARCH program and successfully recuperate closer to his family and friends. Peter’s experience is just one example of the countless stories I’ve heard from Maine veterans about the extraordinary success of ARCH in eliminating long and difficult travel, reducing wait times, and providing access to care in their own communities. ”

With Senator Collins’ strong support, Congress passed a two-year extension of the ARCH program as part of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act in 2014.  This extension, however, is due to expire on August 7, 2016.  While the VA has implemented the Veterans Choice Program in an attempt to improve veterans’ access to health care, more than half of eligible Maine veterans have experienced difficulties in accessing the Choice Program.

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.  According to Cary Medical Center, the program has served approximately 1,600 local veterans through more than 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.

Without this partnership, 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 illustrated this point by showing Secretary Gibson a map displaying the distances between northern Maine and Togus.

“Given the current problems with the Choice Program, it defies common sense that the VA would oppose an extension of ARCH.  Instead of looking for ways to sunset this critically important program, the VA should be looking for ways to build upon its success. I will continue to advocate for the future of the ARCH program and work to ensure that all of our veterans can access timely, high-quality care close to home,” Senator Collins continued.

Last month, 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, continue the successful ARCH program, and incorporate the successes of that program into the VA’s larger community care model.

In addition, last October, 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.