WASHINGTON, D.C. — Maine’s U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King are urging Robert McDonald, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, to provide support for a program that allows veterans in rural states to seek health care treatments from local medical providers.

The Access Received Closer to Home program allows eligible veterans in rural areas, or those with long wait times for the services they need, to seek care and treatment close to their homes instead of having to travel to the nearest Veterans Affairs hospital.

The program is in a pilot stage in five places nationwide — including Caribou — and according to reports to Congress, more than 90 percent of the veterans participating in the pilot program are well satisfied with it.

The program is also being piloted in Montana, Virginia, Kansas and Arizona.

In Maine, hundreds of veterans are hundreds of miles from the state’s main VA hospital at Togus, near Augusta. Veterans in far northern Maine face a 600-mile round-trip to visit doctors or specialists at Togus for their care.

King, an independent, and Collins, a Republican, have joined U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, in writing to McDonald to ask him to continue and expand the program.

To highlight their points King, Collins and Moran described the story of Pete Miesburgur, who was able to use the ARCH program in Maine and avoided a 500-mile round-trip to Togus in the winter after he broke his hip in a fall last winter.

“The ride would have taken more than eight hours, over bumpy, winter roads, while he was in extreme pain,” read a statement issued by King and Collins earlier this week. “Often veterans and their families are forced to stay overnight and miss work as a result of the distance they are forced to travel to receive care. In addition to eliminating long and difficult travel, ARCH has also been extraordinarily successful in reducing wait times for veterans and providing access to care in veterans’ own communities.”

Collins also recently spoke from the U.S. Senate Floor urging her colleagues to support the Fiscal Year 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, a bipartisan bill that would fund critical programs supporting our nation’s service members and veterans, including the ARCH program.  The bill includes $270 million in funding for ARCH. That bill, which received a strong bipartisan vote from the Senate Appropriations Committee is awaiting a final vote by the full Senate.

King and Collins, meanwhile, have both issued repeated letters supporting the program and urging its reauthorization.


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