A disproportionate share of veterans live in rural America. According to the National Center for Veterans Analysis and
Statistics and the U.S. Department of
Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Rural Health (ORH), of the nearly
20 million veterans in the U.S., 4.7 million live in rural America. 2.7 million, or 58%, of these rural vets are
enrolled in the Veteran Affairs (VA) health care system, with 55% of rural enrolled veterans 65 years and older,
and 56% affected by a service-related condition.
Veterans living in rural areas may have difficulty accessing health services for reasons similar to other rural
residents. Some rural veterans face poverty, homelessness, and substance use disorder, which can exacerbate
their health issues. In addition, some veterans are unaware of the benefits, services, and facilities available
to them through the VA.
VA health facilities have worked to address rural access challenges for veterans by developing partnerships with
area community health centers, Rural Health Clinics (RHCs), and hospitals, delivering care via telemedicine,
using mobile VA clinics, and creating Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs). The VA also depends on
nonprofit veterans service organizations to help veterans access health care and basic human services. The VA
addresses the issues affecting rural veterans with programs such as the Veteran Community
Care Program, which provides an option for rural veterans meeting certain criteria to receive care from
a rural community provider.
Frequently Asked Questions
What types of health programs are available to rural veterans?
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides a variety of health
benefits and services to veterans meeting certain military requirements. Health benefits available for
eligible veterans include:
Who is eligible for VA health benefits?
There are a variety of eligibility requirements depending on the type of healthcare sought and the status of the
service member. For details on eligibility requirements of active duty members, National Guard members, Reserve
members, and retired veterans and affected families, see Health
Benefits: Veterans Eligibility.
How can healthcare providers, counselors, social workers, and clergy help rural veterans who are in need of
healthcare, behavioral health, or disability related services?
Healthcare providers and other professionals wanting to help rural veterans in need of healthcare and related
services can encourage veterans to apply for veterans health benefits if they have not already done so. The Veterans Affairs Health Benefits website
provides information about health benefits, eligibility requirements, and the forms for enrolling in VA
Healthcare providers can form a partnership with the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and provide services
to rural veterans as a community provider at a non-VA facility. For a veteran to receive healthcare services
from a community provider, the veteran must meet the eligibility
requirements of the Veteran Community Care Program. The FAQ What opportunities are there for rural
healthcare facilities to collaborate with the VA? provides more specific information on this topic.
Several resources are available from Veterans Affairs to help guide the professional who is involved in the
healthcare of veterans.
I am a Clinician, Researcher, or
Trainee – this section of the VA website provides tools and training resources for clinical
Provider Toolkit – contains tools and resources for clinicians providing mental health
Learn About Military Culture – provides the
education, tools, and resources to help healthcare professionals understand the military culture and modify
their clinical practice to appropriately treat service members or veterans.
VA Facilities Locator & Directory
– provides information on the closest VA healthcare facility to a specific location.
VHA Office of Rural Health – establishes and expands
national programs and partnerships focused on access to healthcare for rural veterans at the federal, state
and local level.
VHA Office of Community Care – provides additional
information about non-VA medical care including emergency medical services, Indian Health Services/Tribal
Health Program, and Patient-Centered Community Care (PC3).
PTSD: National Center for PTSD – includes
training materials and other resources to aid in the assessment and treatment of veterans who may have PTSD.
PsychArmor Institute – provides free online courses on issues
relevant to military and veteran communities, with a focus on mental health, developed by experts for
healthcare professionals, educators, and a variety of caregivers.
What is the VA MISSION Act of 2018 and what does it mean for rural veterans and rural healthcare providers?
On June 6, 2018, the VA MISSION Act
of 2018 was signed into law, becoming
effective June 6, 2019. It includes a variety of reforms to improve and expand access to quality healthcare for
veterans. This law replaces the Veterans Choice Program (VCP) with the Veteran Community Care Program, which
requires the VA to offer non-VA healthcare services to eligible veterans. For information about eligibility,
refer to the VA's Veteran
Community Care Eligibility fact sheet.
Veterans with questions about community care eligibility should contact their VA healthcare provider and VA
medical facility for more information.
What opportunities are there for rural healthcare facilities to collaborate with the VA?
There are three different ways a rural non-VA health facility can provide service to veterans in rural
Rural healthcare facilities can participate as:
Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs) – contracted by the VA to provide primary
care services to veterans
Community Care Network
(CCN) – offers contracts to community providers via 5 regional networks covering primary
care, mental healthcare, oral healthcare, preventive services, and specialty care, among other services
Veteran Community Care Program – allows services by providers contracted with the VA
through a third party administrator (TPA) — Optum or TriWest — to be an authorized healthcare
provider and join the VA's Community
Care Network (CCN)
For information about contracting with the VA, see How to Become a VA
Community Provider. This publication provides information for providers interested in being a part of
the Patient-Centered Community Care program and includes the contact information for Optum and TriWest, the VA's
third-party community care administrators. In addition, the National Association of Community Health Centers'
Care for Veterans in Community Health Centers, provides information on how health centers can
participate in the programs resulting from the VA MISSION Act.
What are the special health concerns faced by rural veterans?
The health issues faced by rural veterans may be different from those of the general rural population due to
disabilities and adverse health effects caused by their period of service. The VBA Annual Benefits Report, 2019 lists
the following conditions as prevalent service-connected disabilities affecting veterans:
- Tinnitus and hearing loss
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Musculoskeletal issues
- Scars, general
- Diabetes mellitus
- Paralysis of the sciatic nerve
According to the VHA Office of Rural Health, the most common diagnoses for rural veterans in outpatient settings
include high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, acid reflux, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depressive
disorder, as well as one or more service-connected disabilities.
Service-related and other health issues experienced by rural veterans can be exacerbated by the lack of
care in rural areas, as well as other conditions such as poverty, homelessness, and substance abuse.
Are there grants or programs to assist veterans in rural areas with transportation to VA medical centers and
other VA and non-VA facilities for medical care?
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs program Grants for
Transportation of Veterans in Highly Rural Areas awards grants to veterans service organizations that
use innovative approaches to assist veterans in rural areas with transportation to VA medical centers and other
VA and non-VA facilities for medical care. A list of grantees providing transportation options to veterans
living in eligible rural counties is available from the Highly Rural
Transportation Grants website. For additional programs that may assist veterans in accessing medical
care, see the funding
section of this topic guide.
Also, the Disabled American Veterans (DAV)
Hospital Service Coordinator Directory provides a state-by-state list of Hospital Service Coordinators
(HSCs), their affiliated VA medical centers, and contact information. HSCs manage DAV transportation programs
for veterans needing medical care.
What is the infrastructure within the federal government for addressing concerns regarding rural veterans'
The VA Office of Rural Health (ORH) advocates on behalf of rural
veterans to improve healthcare delivery, and support research and program development to address their
challenges. ORH partners with other federal, state, and rural communities to optimize the use of technology,
develop additional access points to care, and increase healthcare options for rural veterans.
The VA's work related to rural veterans is informed by the Veterans Rural Health Advisory Committee
(VRHAC). The committee advises the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on healthcare issues affecting veterans in
rural areas. It examines ways to enhance Veterans Affairs' healthcare services for rural veterans by evaluating
current programs and identifying barriers to healthcare. For more information, see the VRHAC page on the Office of Rural Health's
The South Central Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical
Center (MIRECC) is a VA-funded program that supports equal access and quality mental healthcare for
veterans in rural and underserved areas.
What non-governmental organizations provide assistance to rural veterans to help them maintain their health
Several non-VA organizations provide assistance to rural veterans to help them address their health needs. Some
of the more common organizations that are accessible in rural areas include:
American Legion – provides assistance, outreach, and support for
veterans and their families with VA claims and healthcare benefits
Disabled American Veterans (DAV) – assists disabled veterans and
families when applying for benefits and services through the VA and other federal agencies
National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) – offers technical
assistance and resources for a national network of community-based service providers, including local, state
and federal agencies that provide housing, health services, food and job training for homeless veterans
The organizations section of this topic
guide provides an annotated list of non-VA and VA organizations that provide assistance to veterans.
What are some demographics that characterize veterans who live in rural areas?
According to the 2017-2021
American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, rural veterans are estimated to total 4,332,856 individuals
or 24.9% of the entire veteran population. Other demographics include:
Rural Veteran Demographics
|Period of Service
||% of Rural Veterans
|Gulf War (9/2001 or later)
|Gulf War (8/1990 to 8/2001)
|World War II
|Race and Hispanic/Latino Origin
|Black or African American
|American Indian/Alaska Native
|Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander
|Hispanic or Latino
|Below Poverty in the Past 12 Months
|Disability Status with Any Disability
S2101, 2017-2021 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates
Despite increases in the veteran population during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the number or rural veterans
is expected to decline. According to a 2017
USDA Economic Research Service chart, between 2006 – 2016 the rural
veteran population has declined 26% or by 1.1 million people.