Veterans Will Soon Be Able to Get VA Health Care at 3 Military Bases in Kentucky, Oklahoma

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The entrance sign outside Gate 3 at Fort Campbell in Kentucky
The entrance sign outside Gate 3 at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, home to the 101st Airborne Division, is shown on June 4, 2015. (Sam Shore/U.S. Army photo)

Veterans will soon be able to get health care on three more active-duty military bases -- one in Kentucky and two in Oklahoma, VA Secretary Denis McDonough told reporters at a press conference Wednesday.

The announced expansion is one of the largest VA and Department of Defense health-care partnerships to date, with more expected to follow, though no timeline for accepting patients was immediately provided. The VA is seeking the care for veterans at military hospitals as it struggles with aging facilities and surging enrollment following the PACT Act.

Fort Campbell in Kentucky as well as Fort Sill and Tinker Air Force Base, both in Oklahoma, will take veteran patients, and that follows a separate partnership set into motion last week in which 37,000 veterans are now able to access health care at the Naval Air Station Pensacola hospital in Florida. Veterans there who needed surgery had been forced to seek civilian care or potentially drive hours to a VA facility.

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"We've been working to expand as aggressively as we can," McDonough said.

Last year, the VA announced plans to build over 30 new health facilities while shuttering 17 others, all in the hopes of revamping health-care access for a veteran population of around 19 million. Meanwhile, the VA said in August that 113,719 veterans enrolled in its health care during the first year of the PACT Act, which expands care for illnesses related to burn pits, Agent Orange and exposure to other toxic substances.

Some of the VA locations set to close would affect access to health care for veterans, who disproportionately live in rural areas, according to the Rural Health Information Hub. The VA hopes to bridge that gap by partnering with more DoD bases to get medical care to veterans near bases, which are often already well outside major cities.

"We are trying to use every authority we have to address what is obviously a challenging infrastructure situation," McDonough said, adding that many VA health facilities are over 60 years old and due for an overhaul.

For the 37,000 veteran patients on the Gulf Coast, the new access could alleviate a nearly two-hour drive to Mississippi's Biloxi VA Medical Center for surgeries.

Benefits could be similar for veterans in Kentucky and Oklahoma. A 2019 report from Tennessee's Department of Economic and Community Development notes that 68,000 veterans live near Fort Campbell alone.

The VA did not immediately confirm when hospitals aboard the three bases will start accepting veteran patients, though other collaborative efforts with DoD health-care facilities in several other states are set to begin in the next few months.

"We have authority and existing relationships and money to go ahead and take advantage of open opportunities where we're going to do it," McDonough said during Wednesday's press conference. "We're going to identify targets of opportunity."

As part of the effort to expand, the VA has hired more than 61,000 new employees this year, McDonough added. That's on top of the department's historic request for $4.1 billion just for fiscal year 2024 construction funding.

"We think that it's only appropriate that we are in a position to ensure that those requests are matching the updated assessments of where there's care that we need to provide," McDonough said. "And what the infrastructure looks like to provide that care."

-- Kelsey Baker is a graduate student at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism and a former active-duty Marine. Reach her on X at @KelsBBaker or bakerkelsey@protonmail.com.

Related: Gulf Coast Veterans Given Access to Navy's Pensacola Hospital, as VA Seeks Ways to Treat More Patients

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