Telemedicine Support Act would expand care options for vets


By Debbie Gregory.

During the past decade, 2.3 million personnel have deployed to Iraq and/or Afghanistan.  Returning servicemembers and veterans are returning with mental health illnesses sustained in battle. Traumatic Brain Injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression are common among servicemembers and veterans returning from battle.

According to the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs,  the number of suicides among returning servicemembers and veterans is growing.  The veteran suicide epidemic is a result of multiple years of war and multiple deployments.  Soldiers tend to pride themselves on their ability to care for and be cared for by their brothers in arms. It is a bond that is hard to replicate. When a buddy dies in battle, there is always the feeling of guilt in soldiers who survived.

Adding to the increase is a combination of factors. First, there is a shortage of mental health care professionals to deal with the added need for their services. Secondly, many veterans choose not to seek professional support in order to avoid the stigma often associated with mental health illness. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is prevented from offering services unless both the physician and patient are located in a federally owned facility in the same state, which often prevents veterans from accessing the care they need in a timely fashion.

Congress has introduced the Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support Act of 2013, or VETS Act.  The VETS Act amends United States Code, Chapter 17 of title 38 provides licensure of health care professionals of the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide treatment via telemedicine.

Telemedicine is the use of telecommunication and information technologies in order to provide clinical health care at a distance. It helps eliminate distance barriers, and can improve access to medical services that would often not be available on a consistent basis in distant rural communities. It is also used to save lives in critical care and emergency situations.

The VETS Act will help the VA to provide better solutions and assistance to servicemembers and veterans suffering from mental health issues.