Senator Collins Presses the VA to Preserve Access to Care for Northern Maine Veterans at Senate Appropriations Hearing

In response, the official leading the VA’s community care program pledged to use the successful ARCH pilot in Maine as a “standard-bearer” for providing health care to rural veterans

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Washington, D.C. - At a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing yesterday on veterans’ health care, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, emphasized to officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) the importance of maintaining northern Maine veterans’ access to community care. Dr. David Shulkin, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and Dr. Baligh Yehia, the VHA Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Community Care, testified at the hearing.

Beginning in 2011, the Access Received Closer to Home (ARCH) pilot program allowed northern Maine veterans to receive health care services at Cary Medical Center in Caribou, negating the need for these veterans to travel up to 600 miles roundtrip to the Togus VA Hospital in Augusta. Prior to the ARCH program’s expiration in 2016, Senator Collins strongly advocated for the continuation of similar access to community care and invited Dr. Shulkin and Dr. Yehia to Cary Medical Center last year so that they could see this highly successful program firsthand.

Following Dr. Shulkin and Dr. Yehia’s visit, the VA began authorizing provider agreements that allowed northern Maine veterans to continue receiving health care services at Cary Medical Center and other providers in a manner very similar to the ARCH program. Senator Collins thanked Secretary Shulkin and Under Secretary Yehia for keeping their word to preserve seamless community care and asked them to commit to providing these services moving forward.

Senator Collins asked Dr. Yehia, “As Congress and your department work to reform and consolidate VA's community care authorities, will you pledge to continue to ensure that veterans in northern Maine experience another seamless transition and continue to enjoy the convenient, efficient, and cost-effective community care that they are receiving now?”

“Absolutely,” Dr. Yehia responded. “ARCH has really been a learning lesson for us and our pilots that we have today in the Choice Program in North Dakota and Alaska are modeled after ARCH... So we actually look to take that model in Maine and in other parts of the country and use it as a standard-bearer for the new program in the area of how we coordinate care.”

That's exactly what I'd hoped you would do once you saw how effective it was,” Senator Collins replied. “I appreciate the fact that you are replicating [the ARCH program] because we felt that this is the model that's working. Let's bring it to other remote or rural areas.”