- Congress is taking aim at veteran healthcare with a proposal to expand access to telehealth and telemedicine for those dealing with mental health issues like PTSD.
The Enhancing Veterans Experience with Telehealth Services (eVETS) Act, introduced last week by U.S. Reps. Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine) and Ann Kuster (D-N.H.), would crete a demonstration program to give veterans in 10 states access to at least a dozen virtual care sessions with Department of Veterans’ Affairs healthcare providers. The bill would also allow veterans to choose between two evidence-based treatments: prolonged exposure therapy or cognitive processing therapy.
“This bill is designed to improve access to treatment and help save the lives of veterans who are feeling discouraged and hopeless,” Kuster said in a joint press release. “In rural communities in New Hampshire, the nearest VA facility can be an hour’s drive away, deterring many from obtaining help.”
“For these veterans, qualified private therapists are few and far between,” she added. “By rapidly expanding the VA’s offering of telehealth to these areas, we hope to address obstacles that have kept far too many veterans from receiving care.”
If passed, the bill would take advantage of a connected care platform championed this past year by former VA Secretary David Shulkin. The Anywhere to Anywhere VA Health Care Initiative, put into place this past May, enables VA-sanctioned healthcare providers to provider telehealth treatment to veterans no matter where either the veteran or the provider are located.
Poliquin and Kuster said this service is vital in rural states like Maine and New Hampshire – and at a time when veteran suicides are increasing at an alarming rate. The bill – whose wording has not yet been processed – would expand access to telemental health services to veterans in rural areas of the 10 states with the highest per-capita rural veteran populations.
“Tragically, the rate of Veteran suicide in Maine - which is home to more than 114,000 veterans - is significantly higher than the national level,” Poliquin said in the release.
Poliquin added that the program would also take advantage of public-private initiatives to increase broadband access in rural parts of the country, such as Microsoft’s Rural Airband Program.
The bill, whose co-sponsors are Reps. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.), Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), Bruce Westerman, (R-Ark.) and Carol Shea-Porter (D.N.H.), has been referred to the House Veterans Affairs Committee.