Recent Press Releases

Washington, DC —  United States Senator John Thune (R-SD), Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO), and a bipartisan group of their colleagues, introduced legislation today that would establish the position of an Assistant Secretary of Veterans' Affairs for Rural Veterans within the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA), and take additional steps to expand access to VA healthcare and other services for veterans living in rural communities.

Because of the distance and other difficulties associated with obtaining care, many rural veterans put off preventive as well as necessary treatment. As a result, veterans living in rural areas are in poorer health and pay more for health care than their urban counterparts.

  • There are approximately 5.7 million veterans in the U.S. living in rural areas.

  • Many of these veterans are forced to travel hundreds of miles to obtain care.

  • According to a recent VA study, veterans in rural areas are in substantially poorer health than their urban and suburban counterparts. With an average U.S. health score of 50, urban veterans scored a 37, and rural veterans scored a 33.

  • More than 44 percent of U.S. military recruits come from rural areas. In contrast, 14 percent come from major cities.

"Access to quality health care is a growing concern for rural Americans across the country—especially for many rural veterans who have to travel long distances to receive medical attention at designated VA facilities," Thune said. "The VA does the important work of serving the health care needs of millions of veterans across the country, but unfortunately our rural veterans are often unintentionally overlooked. The legislation we introduced today would appoint a first-ever Assistant Secretary of Veterans' Affairs for Rural Veterans to ensure America's rural veterans are receiving equal access to quality, reliable health care.

"Our veterans have made great sacrifices for the safety and well-being of every American; in turn, they deserve nothing but the best in care and benefits," said Thune. "I'm hopeful this legislation will receive broad bipartisan support in the Senate, so we can move swiftly to improve health care access and quality for rural veterans across the country."

"Nearly one quarter of the Nation's veterans live in rural areas and the VA should tailor their policies to provide them adequate care," Salazar said. "Our Nation's veterans deserve access to quality health care no matter where they live. It is clear that there is a need to better focus veterans' healthcare policies on veterans living in rural or geographically remote areas."

In addition to creating an Assistant Secretary for Rural Veterans, the Rural Veterans Care Act would establish centers of excellence to research ways to improve care for rural veterans, and require the Secretary to implement a pilot program in areas with high populations of rural veterans to explore ways to practically implement this research. It would also improve rates for veterans seeking reimbursement for travel expenses related to VA medical care and codify policies on the use of fee basis care when veterans must receive care from third-party providers outside the VA.

The legislation enjoys wide, bi-partisan support. Original co-sponsors of the Rural Veterans Care Act include Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Max Baucus (D-MT), Conrad Burns (R-MT), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Patty Murray (D-WA), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Craig Thomas (R-WY), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), and Richard Burr (R-NC).

A complete one page summary of the bill can be accessed from Senator Salazar's site at