Caleb Cage: Nevada represented on federal Veterans Rural Health Advisory Committee
The federal Department of Veterans Affairs has 24 different advisory committees established by statute or policy that are intended to provide guidance to and advice on programs and services provided by the department. One of those panels, the 15-member Rural Health Advisory Committee which meets twice yearly and produces an annual report, focuses on improving delivery of health services and benefits to veterans living in rural America. Earlier this year I was honored to be selected by Secretary Eric Shinseki to serve a two-year term on the advisory committee, which I believe will be an important opportunity for a number of reasons.
I recently attended my first meeting of the committee in Morgantown, W. Va., and found it to be incredibly informative and valuable. We received briefings on some of the health and wellness resources available to rural veterans, and the various federal agencies that provide them. We had a chance to discuss best practices around the country, and learn how other states are operating to improve services. And we had an hour-long conversation with the chief of staff of the Department of Veterans Affairs, John R. Gingrich, about the issues impacting our individual states. Based on this first meeting alone, we are already acting on resources that are available to Nevada’s veterans and relationships that will allow us to coordinate them more efficiently.
As we all know, a large amount of Nevada is considered rural or frontier. This fact makes for a tremendously challenging environment with respect to access to services, delivery of services and the dissemination of information to Nevada veterans. As my office has traveled the state during the last few years to interview and serve rural veterans, these issues, especially rural access to health care and mental health services, have been common topics.
We have worked to address these issues by changing the way we provide services to rural Nevadans and also by working with our federal and non-profit partners. As I have written about recently, we have changed the philosophy and practice behind our rural outreach program, which will allow us to more consistently reach out to more rural communities. This program, which we call the ROVER Program, is in addition to offices that we have established or supported in Elko, Churchill and Nye counties.
Thanks to our federal partners, we have seen the recent opening of a new community-based outreach clinic in Winnemucca, a new telehealth clinic in Elko, a new mobile unit for the Reno VetCenter, the promise of a veterans burial ground in Elko in the future, and other federal resources. These are in addition to the most recent resource for Nevada veterans, the new VA medical center and outreach clinics that were recently opened in Las Vegas. Although the newest health facilities in our state are in Nevada’s most populated city, we have worked to increase access to them and all of the resources throughout the state by partnering with the Disabled American Veterans’ van program and other non-profit organizations that provide transportation services around the state.
I believe that my participation on the VA’s Rural Health Advisory Committee will allow us to continue to grow our presence in rural Nevada in several important ways. First, it will allow me to be better able to advocate to federal service providers on behalf of Nevada’s veterans, particularly those in rural communities, to help bring additional resources to our state. Secondly, it will allow me to work to ensure that we support these resources and increase awareness among veterans who can benefit from them.
I look forward to learning from this experience and from my colleagues dealing with the same challenges around the country. I also look forward to providing the Nevada perspective to leaders of the VA’s Office of Rural Health as they try to develop new programs around the country that benefit and reach our rural veterans. Most importantly, I look forward to learning what resources we can bring to Nevada to meet the health care needs of Nevada’s rural and frontier veterans.
Caleb S. Cage is the executive director of the Nevada Office of Veterans Services, appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval. You can read his blog at http://veterans.nv.gov/blog.