The Critical Role of Virtual Care for Veterans

In May, 2018, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced the expansion of virtual care and telehealth services to support convenient, high-quality care for all Veterans.   With this announcement, Veterans and healthcare providers can connect, regardless of where each is located.   The rule enables VA practitioners to bypass state licensure laws in order to be able to connect with Veterans in any state.

As some Veterans may have difficulties traveling to any of the VA’s estimated 900 hospitals and clinics in the US, this expansion of services brings needed care to the convenience and comfort of our Veterans’ homes.   The ruling noted that “it would be impractical for VA to lobby each State to remove any restrictions that impair VA’s ability to furnish telehealth services to beneficiaries and then wait for the State to implement appropriate changes.”   Lobbying each state would “delay the growth of telehealth services in VA, thereby delaying delivery of healthcare to beneficiaries. It would be costly and time-consuming for VA and would not guarantee a successful result.”

This expansion of services is also complemented by an expected increase in the number of connected iPads loaned to Veterans. Since April 2016, the VA has loaned more than 6,000 connected iPads to Veterans who didn’t have or couldn’t afford a computer at home but needed to connect to accessible healthcare.  Recently, Neil Evans, M.D., chief officer for the Office of Connected Care at the Veterans Health Administration, said that the VA forecasts that the number of tablets provided will double next year.  The VA pays a wireless carrier to connect each device.

Benefits to Mental & Behavioral Health

Expanding access to care is critical to Veterans, especially in treating mental and behavioral conditions. Virtual consults and virtual visits can be a convenient and impactful way for Veterans to receive mental and behavioral health care.  By driving better access and outcomes, virtual care solutions are bringing needed care to Veterans in a more timely manner, especially for those Veterans who live in rural areas where mental/behavioral professionals may be in short supply.

Early intervention and ongoing virtual care can help address the Veteran suicide rate.  In June 2018, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention (OMHSP) released findings from its most recent analysis of suicide rates from 2005 to 2015 for Veteran and non-Veteran populations.  Overall, general trends in Veteran suicide, previously reported through 2014, remained consistent through 2015.

  • In 2015, Veterans accounted for 14.3% of all deaths by suicide among U.S. adults and constituted 8.3% of the U.S. adult population (ages 18 and up). In 2010, Veterans accounted for 16.5% of all deaths by suicide and represented 9.6% of the U.S. adult population.
  • After adjusting for differences in age, the rate of suicide in 2015 was 2.1 times higher among Veterans compared with non-Veteran adults.
  • In 2015, an average of 20.6 active-duty Service members, non-activated Guard or Reserve members, and other Veterans died by suicide each day

Providing cost-effective and convenient care for Veterans via the use of connected devices and virtual care platforms is just one way to recognize the critical role of Veterans in the US.   As former Veteran Affairs Department Secretary David Shulkin stated in 2017, “we’re removing geography as a barrier so that we can speed up access to Veterans and really honor our commitment to them.”

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