Senator Collins to top VA Officials: ARCH Program Should be the Model for the Nation

Senator Collins advocates strongly on behalf of ARCH, rural veterans’ access to local health care

Click HERE to watch Senator Collins question Secretary McDonald on ARCH

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Washington, D.C.—U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, pressed Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald this morning on the future of the Access Received Closer to Home (ARCH) program.  Senator Collins has consistently urged the 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.  Secretary McDonald testified at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the VA’s budget request for fiscal years (FY) 2017 and 2018. 

Senator Collins remarked that, “[The ARCH program] allows veterans in rural areas to receive exceptionally high quality care close to home, close to their families, and when they need it.  It has a 90 percent patient satisfaction rate, and, according to the VA’s own figures, the average cost per veteran in Maine using the ARCH program is less than the average cost for VHA direct care…I just can’t overstate how satisfied the veterans are with this program.”

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.  Given the tremendous success of the ARCH program measured in terms of both patient satisfaction and cost effectiveness, Senator Collins questioned why the VA is discussing the idea of folding ARCH into the Choice Program.

“ARCH ought to be the model for the Choice Program,” Senator Collins continued.  “ARCH is working well. The Choice Program is not working well…My concern is that you’re going to cause disruption to a program that has been cost effective and has worked very well.”

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.  Yesterday, Senator Collins met with Deputy Secretary Gibson in her Washington, D.C., office to emphasize the vital importance of extending the ARCH program.

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, 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.