VA to increase veterans’ mental health care access, flexibility

Originally published by pkampe on June 20, 2012

WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs has set a goal to conduct more than 200,000 clinic-based, telemental health consultations for all mental health specialties in 2012.

Last month, the VA announced it would no longer charge veterans a copayment when they receive care in their homes from VA health professionals using video conferencing.

“Telemental health provides Veterans quicker and more efficient access to the types of care they seek,” said secretary of veterans affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “We are leveraging technology to reduce the distance they have to travel, increase the flexibility of the system they use, and improve their overall quality of life.  We are expanding the reach of our mental health services beyond our major medical centers and treating veterans closer to their homes.”

The clinic-based telehealth program involves the more than 800 VA community-based outpatient clinics where many veterans receive primary care.  If the CBOCs do not have a mental health care provider available, secure video teleconferencing technology is used to connect the Veteran to a provider within VA’s nationwide system of care.

As a result, Veterans can arrange appointments at times more in synch with their schedules.  The program improves access to general and specialty services in geographically remote areas where it can be difficult to recruit mental health professionals.

“As technology is improving people’s lives in many areas, telemental health is making access to health care and support easier for veterans with mental health conditions,” said Dr. Robert A. Petzel, Under Secretary for Health.  “For example, one combat veteran from Iraq cites telemental health as a critical factor in rebuilding her life and coping with the aftermath of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and military sexual trauma.  Telemental health offered her a safe and convenient setting to receive gender sensitive services that helped her fit back into civilian life after three months of therapy.”

Since the start of the Telemental Health Program, the VA says it has completed more than 550,000 patient encounters.

For more information, on VA’s telemental health, visit the Office of Telehealth Services at http://www.telehealth.va.gov/.

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