The mission of the Office of Rural Health (ORH) is to improve access and quality of care for enrolled rural and highly rural Veterans by developing evidence-based policies and innovative practices to support the unique needs of enrolled Veterans residing in geographically remote areas.
Currently, 3.1 million rural Veterans are enrolled in the VA system. This represents 36% of the total enrolled Veteran population based on the 2010 US Census. Veterans from geographically rural areas make up a disproportionate share of Servicemembers and comprise about 31% of the enrolled Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) Veterans; many of whom are returning to their rural communities.
Individuals living in rural areas have traditionally been underserved with regard to health care access. The reasons for this are multiple and varied, but mainly stem from the need to travel long distances to health care facilities, lack of health insurance, lack of specialized care and an inadequate number of health care providers working in rural areas. As a result, rural populations tend to be in poorer health; in fact, a study by the Office of Health and Human services estimates that half of the adults living in rural areas suffer from a chronic health condition. With regard to rural Veterans, there are the additional health complications associated with combat exposure such as PTSD, depression, and traumatic brain injury.