U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI), both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, reintroduced this week the Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support Act of 2017 (VETS Act), bipartisan legislation that aims to expand telehealth services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
By expanding telehealth services, the legislation aims to improve health care access, including mental health treatment, for disabled and rural veterans, according to a press release from Sen. Ernst.
Currently, VA may only perform at-home telehealth services when the patient and provider are located in the same state. Such requirements prevent veterans from seeking treatment from a provider in another state that may be closer to their home. In some cases, veterans also must travel great lengths to a federal facility instead of receiving telehealth services by camera or phone, according to Ernst.
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.
According to Sens. Ernst and Hirono, the VETS Act allows VA health professionals to practice telemedicine across state lines if they are qualified and practice within the scope of their authorized federal duties and ensures the VA and Congress provide oversight of the VA’s telehealth program by requiring the VA to measure program effectiveness.
“Iowa is home to more than 200,000 veterans, many of whom reside in more rural areas, distant from Iowa’s VA facilities,” Senator Ernst, a combat veteran who initially introduced the bill in 2015, said in a statement. “Telehealth offers another way in which we can provide veterans the care they need, including critical, and potentially lifesaving mental health care. The VETS Act will ensure that veterans can receive the timely and quality care they deserve from the comfort of their own homes.”
“Hawaii veterans shouldn’t have to fly to Oahu, or even different states, to seek the medical care they have earned,” Senator Hirono said in a statement. “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.”
The companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives was introduced this week by Representatives Glenn Thompson (R-PA) and Julia Brownley (D-CA).