November 07, 2022

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs has appointed University Distinguished Research Professor and Hill Crest Foundation Endowed Chair in Mental Health Research David L. Albright to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veterans’ Rural Health Advisory Committee.

The federal committee is tasked with providing advice to the Secretary on ways to improve and enhance access to healthcare services for Veterans residing in rural areas.

Almost a quarter of all Veterans in the U.S. live in rural areas, with the VA allocating 32 percent of its health care budget to rural Veteran care.

While Alabama’s geography is considered 96 percent rural, most Alabamians live within the largest urban cities, resulting in a higher concentration of health facilities and limited health services in rural areas, according to the Alabama Hospital Association.

Living in a rural area places Alabamians at greater risk for not having proper access to care and non-medical factors that influence health outcomes. These factors include income disparities, less education, poverty, unemployment, food insecurity, housing instability, and limited family and social support services.

Alabama has approximately 315 thousand total Veterans (about 8% of the entire state population). Most older veterans face accessibility barriers to care, like transportation and distance, for their healthcare needs. Many report non-medical factors like housing instability and food insecurity. A relatively low proportion report seeking needed mental health services that might contribute to alarming suicide rates.

“I believe that having the voice of Alabama Veterans on this committee is very important in addressing their health care concerns and needs,” said Albright.

The Veterans’ Rural Health Advisory Committee consists of 12 appointed members and three ex-officio members assigned by the Secretary of the VA. Members include rural health experts in academia, rural health professionals, state Directors of Veterans Affairs, leaders of Veterans Service Organizations, and rural Veterans. Members serve an initial three-year term, and the Secretary may reappoint members for an additional term of service.

Dr. Albright also serves as a board director for the National Association for Rural Mental Health and is the board president-elect of the Alabama Rural Health Association. He is the Principal Investigator of VitAL, a community-engaged research, implementation, training, and education initiative focused on improving services, policies, and social conditions for Alabamians with mental health, substance use disorder, and trauma-related challenges. The VitAL team works with community stakeholders across all of Alabama’s 67 counties. Dr. Albright is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare and the National Academies of Practice in Social Work.