Bipartisan bill would open interstate telehealth to war vets
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Citing a horrific statistic—U.S. military veterans commit suicide at the rate of nearly 18 per day—Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) has introduced, together with Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), new legislation that would allow vets the same access to interstate telemedicine as that which active service members currently enjoy.

Under current law, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can only waive state licensing requirements for medical treatment if both physician and patient are located in a federally owned facility. The Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act of 2012 is written to remove such barriers, allowing veterans to receive telemed treatments at home, in community centers and elsewhere.

“Veterans have made huge sacrifices for their country. Oftentimes, the price they pay for their courageous service is a serious health condition,” said Rangel in prepared remarks released July 16, adding that the VETS measure would “cut the red tape and let veterans get the care they need. Both parties can and should support that.”

Bipartisan support seems a lock in the House, as seven Democrats and four Republicans have already signed on as co-sponsors behind Rangel and Thompson.

The bill follows last December’s passage of Thompson’s Servicemembers Telemedicine & E-Health Portability (STEP) Act, which cleared Department of Defense clinicians to treat active service members across state lines using telemed technologies.

While the extension of the benefit to veterans would permit telemed consults for a broad range of medical conditions, Thompson, like Rangel, emphasized the criticality of its mental-health component. He noted the dispersing of veterans to geographically remote areas, the mounting of provider shortages and the increasing demands for “key treatment services, including behavioral health.”

Last week the Institute of Medicine recommended that veterans undergo screening for post-traumatic stress disorder once a year, pointing out that 13 percent to 20 percent of service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan present symptoms.

According to the VA website, the department has seen a 35 percent increase in the number of veterans receiving mental-health services since 2007, treating 1.3 million in 2011 alone.