Thompson Bill Included in Final National Defense Policy Agreement, Provisions Praised by Army Leadership

Washington, D.C. - Today, the full U.S. House of Representatives passed the final House-Senate agreement on H.R. 1540, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012, which included the Servicemembers’ Telemedicine and E-Health Portability (STEP) Act, legislation Representative Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson introduced in May, 2011.  Following today’s passage, General Peter Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, specifically praised inclusion of the STEP Act provisions, before the full measure was sent to the Senate for consideration.

"I am very appreciative of the strong support of Congress on this issue, and particularly the efforts of Representative Glenn Thompson and his staff,” said General Peter Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. “This legislation is important in that it will enhance Service member and Veteran access to behavioral health care at a time when the Nation and our military services are faced with a significant shortage of behavioral health care providers, especially in remote, rural areas. This legislation is a positive step in mitigating that problem and will be particularly helpful in reaching our Guard and Reserve Soldiers in areas with limited resources and support services."

Under current law, Department of Defense (DoD) healthcare professionals must be licensed in the state where the servicemember is treated in order to offer services. The Step Act provides this needed flexibility by removing the state licensure burden. This will enable qualified and credentialed DoD healthcare professionals to use cutting edge telemedicine and e-health applications to treat servicemembers, regardless of their physical proximity.

“The STEP Act is a fundamentally important improvement to our national defense policy and will dramatically enhance how our nation’s warriors, especially rural servicemembers, access care,” said Representative Thompson. “Passage of this legislation will enable our National Guard, Reserve, Veterans, retirees, and their families quicker and more efficient access to the care they need and deserve, and open the door to allow for modernization of healthcare delivery in the Department of Defense. The STEP Act also expands the definition of health care professional to allow licensed and credentialed civilians and contractors to use this new freedom from bureaucracy to fill vital shortages in key areas of military health."

Representative Thompson began working on this issue out of concern for the rise in suicide rates among servicemembers returning from war.  After working with DoD officials and staff to identify obstacles to behavioral care that servicemembers encounter, it was apparent these obstacles impacted servicemembers in numerous areas of healthcare, and most especially those in rural and remote areas.  The STEP Act will enhance access for both behavioral and physical health services.

On May 11, 20111, Thompson introduced the STEP Act, which quickly garnered the support of 20 bipartisan cosponsors and 12 of the major veteran and military groups before being including it in the FY2012 National Defense Authorization.  

The National Defense Authorization governs the U.S. Department of Defense and related budget and policy decisions. The FY 2012 NDAA agreement today passed the House by a vote of 283-136 and is expected to be considered by the Senate later this week.  

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