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Office of Rural Health

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Rural Veteran Health Care Challenges | Rural Veteran Demographics | Rural Definition |
Rural Veterans Health Care Atlas |

Rural Veteran Health Care Challenges

4.4 million Veterans reside in rural communities for a variety of reasons including: closer proximity to family, friends, and community; open space for recreation; more privacy; lower cost of living; and less crowded towns and schools. While Veterans may enjoy the benefits of rural living, they may also experience rural health care challenges that are intensified by combat-related injuries and illnesses.

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Rural Veteran Demographics

There are 4.4 million rural and highly rural Veterans with 2.7 million enrolled in VA.

  • 48% of rural Veterans are enrolled in the VA health care system –  higher than the 41% enrollment rate of urban Veterans
  • 8% of enrolled rural Veterans are women
  • 31% earn less than $35,000 annually

Many rural Veterans enrolled in VA's health care system are at an advanced age, with 54% being age 65 or older.

  • This older Veteran population is medically complex and more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and heart conditions that require more frequent, ongoing, and costly care

The next generation of rural Veterans also has multiple medical and combat-related issues, which will require significant ongoing access to care. 

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Rural Definition

VA uses the rural-urban commuting area (RUCA) codes system to define rurality. Developed by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the RUCA codes system takes into account population density as well as how closely a community is linked socio-economically to larger urban centers. RUCA is based on how the United States Census Bureau counts citizens.

  • Urban Areas: Census tracts with at least 30% of the population residing in an urbanized area as defined by the Census Bureau
  • Rural Areas: Land areas not defined as urban or highly rural
  • Highly Rural Areas: Sparsely populated areas – less than 10% of the working population commutes to any community larger than an urbanized cluster, which is typically a town of no more than 2,500 people

Click here to learn more about RUCA.

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Rural Veterans Health Care Atlas

The Rural Veterans Health Care Atlas is a comprehensive resource for rural and Veteran stakeholders (including, but not limited to, researchers, planners, and policy decision makers, as well as clinicians and patient care teams) to enhance health care delivery to rural Veterans, enrollees, and patients. The first edition consists of 17 chapters; seven are core chapters and ten are disease-specific chapters on the following topics:

  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Alcohol use disorders
  • Tobacco use disorders
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Chronic renal failure
  • Obesity

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