Veterans deserve access to telehealth services

Veterans, the very people who put their lives on the line so the rest of us can enjoy our freedoms, deserve to have the best health care this country can provide.

That’s why we support the Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support Act of 2017 (VETS Act). This bipartisan legislation seeks to improve health care access — including mental health treatment — for disabled or rural veterans by expanding telehealth services provided by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.

This proposed law is especially important for veterans on Kauai, who often must book flights to travel overseas for treatments. We can do better for them.

“Hawaii veterans shouldn’t have to fly to Oahu, or even different states, to seek the medical care they have earned,” said U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii. “The VETS Act builds on a VA telemedicine program that is proven to work, and removes barriers to accessing care particularly for veterans in rural areas like Hawaii’s Neighbor Islands.”

Hirono and Joni Ernst, R-IA, reintroduced the act.

“Telehealth offers another way in which we can provide veterans the care they need, including critical and potentially lifesaving mental health care,” Ernst said. “The VETS Act will ensure that veterans can receive the timely and quality care they deserve from the comfort of their own homes.”

Currently, VA may only perform at-home telehealth services when the patient and provider are located in the same state. Such requirements create geographical barriers to critical health services for veterans seeking treatment from VA health experts in another state. In some cases, veterans also must travel great lengths to a federal facility instead of receiving telehealth services by camera or phone.

The VETS Act addresses these barriers by allowing qualified VA health professionals to operate across state lines and conduct telehealth services, including vital mental health care treatment, for veterans from the comfort and privacy of their own homes.

The VETS Act is endorsed by the American Legion, American Telemedicine Association, Coalition for Health IT Now, and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives was introduced by Reps Julia Brownley, D-Calif., and Glenn Thompson, R-Penn.

Kauai has many veterans who have served this country with pride and distinction. These fine men and women are often models of courage and dedication. Such individuals should be treated with the utmost respect and the finest medical treatment. There is no reason to deny them these basic telehealth services, particular on Kauai where it means they can stay home, where they belong.


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