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New Legislation May Expand Veterans' Access to VA Telehealth Services

November 25, 2015

An article in MHealth Intelligence discusses the growing support for the Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act of 2015, which would allow VA healthcare providers to offer telehealth services, including mental healthcare, to Veterans in their homes, eliminating the requirement that physicians be licensed in the state in which they practice.

VA has significantly increased telehealth options for Veterans. VA Telehealth Services uses health informatics, disease management, and telehealth technologies to improve access to care for all Veterans. HSR&D researchers greatly contribute to these efforts. For example, an HSR&D study found that the use of clinical video-conferencing services to provide psychotherapy to Veterans with PTSD who live in rural settings was as effective and "as good as" in-person treatment. Published results showed significant reductions in PTSD symptoms at both 3- and 6-month follow-ups. In 2011, VA's Office of Mental Health Operations, Patient Care Services/Mental Health Services, and the VA Office of Telehealth Services, part of VA Connected Health, approached HSR&D investigator Dr. Mark Bauer to develop and implement a clinical video-conference-based format to improve treatment options for Veterans with bipolar disorder. Breaking down geographic barriers to specialty care access for this condition, the Bipolar Telehealth program has, thus far, received more than 750 consults and is active in 27 sites across eight VA regional networks. In addition, HSR&D has an array of ongoing telehealth studies, including tele-monitoring to improve substance use disorder, adherence to home telehealth devices by Veterans with heart failure, and video-to-home inhaler training for Veterans with chronic pulmonary disease, to name a few.

The VETS bill has received support from the American Telemedicine Association, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of American, Concerned Veterans for American, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, as well as the Health IT Now! coalition.