Hilda Heady, West Virginia University associate vice president for rural health, was named to the Department of Veterans Affairsnew Veterans Rural Health Advisory Committee. The committee will counsel Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake on issues related to the health of veterans in rural areas.

Heady is executive and state program director of the West Virginia Rural Health Education Partnerships/Area Health Educations Centers. She is one of 13 committee members Peake selected.

Like other rural health advocates, Heady believes that state and federal bureaucracies devoted to veterans’affairs, along with health care leaders and others, can best address concerns of rural veterans and their families by working jointly.

This advisory board can bring voice to this issue as we address the needs of a new generation of veterans and also the needs of a large population of aging vets,she said.

Heady has worked as an advocate for rural people and communities for 40 years. In 1997, she began her research on rural veteranshealth care access problems.

I was concerned because there is very little research on issues that impact rural veterans, especially when a disproportionate number of rural people serve in the military,Heady said.High school graduates from sparsely populated ruralZIP codes are 22 percent more likely to be recruited into military service than their urban counterparts.

Rural recruits make up 44 percent of the recruiting class, while only 14 percent are urban. Most of these enlistees come from the South and the West. According to Heady, among the 21 states with a higher than national average of veterans, 18 are predominantly rural states. This includes West Virginia.

In our current wars, the death rate among rural soldiers is 60 percent higher than that of soldiers from large cities and suburbs,she said.”I am eager to try and represent these issues on the VA committee and encourage more collaboration with civilian rural health care providers and veteransfamilies to improve life for rural folks who I call our invisible heroes.”

Heady first testified before Congress on rural veteransissues in 2001 and was the lead author on the National Rural Health Association policy paper on the topic.She was also a member of the core research team for the Returning Soldiers Study supported by the West Virginia legislature in 2007-08.

For more information on the WVU School of Medicine, visithttp://www.hsc.wvu.edu/som/. West Virginia Rural Health Education Partnerships on the Net:http://www.wvrhep.org/