Rural veterans face long paths to health care
On this long drive, across two state lines and endless fields of corn and cattle, Lynn Graham thinks about how it may be the quality of life, not the quantity, that matters.
Graham, 55, has stage 4 liver and colon cancer. It is an 85-mile drive, cutting through Arkansas on mostly country roads, to the closest U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs medical center in Shreveport, Louisiana, where he is being treated. For this appointment, the Air Force veteran borrowed his mother’s car and is driving himself. But his second round of chemotherapy is supposed to start next week, and he doesn’t know how he will get there. He’s starting to think, since the chemo may not work anyway, it’s not worth the stress.
Graham has struggled to find rides to his appointments since June, when a temporary program funded by the VA and run by Volunteers of America North Louisiana ended. For the last two years, the program picked up a handful of veterans at a time from all across rural Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana and shuttled them in a van to medical appointments. Demand was high, and now the veterans are calling Congress to let them know they want it back.
“Everything was going along perfectly,” Graham said. “It was like the answer to my prayers. And then I found out they were ending it. I was devastated.”
While long drives and limited access to health care are familiar burdens for many rural residents, the problem is particularly acute for veterans in those areas. They are far older than other rural residents, and far more likely to be disabled, meaning more of them are in need of medical care. And there are a lot of them—one in four veterans lives in rural areas, compared to one in five adults in the general population, according to 2015 census data.
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