Thompson, Brownley Introduce VETS Act to Expand Access to Care for Veterans

Use of telemedicine would allow licensed health care professionals to care for more veterans

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Reps. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (PA-05) and Julia Brownley (CA-26) introduced H.R. 2123, the Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act of 2017.

This bipartisan legislation would allow U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health professionals to practice telemedicine across state borders if they are qualified and practice within the scope of their authorized federal duties. Currently, cumbersome location requirements can make it difficult for veterans – especially those struggling with mental health issues – to get the help they need and deserve.

“When our service men and women are called to duty, they do so selflessly with only the country in mind,” Thompson said. “When they return home, it is our shared responsibility to be there for these heroes, by making lifesaving resources readily accessible. The VETS Act will eliminate multiple layers of bureaucracy, allowing our veterans to have greater access to mental and behavioral health services, especially in rural areas.”

“As Ranking Member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health, I believe that we need to meet veterans where they are. The rapid growth of technology offers new possibilities for providing timely, quality healthcare that best suits veterans’ needs,” Brownley said. “The VA has seen tremendous growth and interest in telehealth, and we should continue to find new ways to connect veterans with the providers that they need, no matter their physical location. The VETS Act will empower veterans with more options and greater access to the care that they have earned and deserve.”

Under current law, VA doctors can only provide telehealth treatment across state lines if the veteran and the doctor are located in federal facilities.  The VETS Act of 2017 removes these barriers and allows the VA to provide treatment through physicians free of this restriction. Veterans will no longer be required to travel to a VA facility, but rather can receive telemedicine treatment from anywhere, including their home or a community center.

A companion bill in the Senate was introduced by Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI).

VETS ACT AT A GLANCE

The bill introduced by U.S. Reps. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson and Julia Brownley would do three things:

  • Create a VA state licensure exemption to allow VA-credentialed health care professionals to work across state borders to perform telemedicine without having to obtain a new license in that state.
  • Expand the definition of exempt health care professionals to include VA doctors.
  • Remove the location requirement to allow for care regardless of where the health care professional or patient is located.

In August 2016, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing about telemedicine in the VA. The VETS Act seeks to build on VA’s existing telemedicine program. In 2015, the VA conducted 2.14 million telehealth visits, reaching more than 677,000 veterans. From 2002 to mid-2016, the VA provided more than 2 million tele-mental health visits to over 389,400 veterans. According to a 2014 VA report, telehealth offered a number of benefits to veterans, including: a reduction in bed days of care by 59 percent; a reduction in hospital admission by 35 percent; an average savings of $2,000 per year per patient; an average patient satisfaction score of 94 percent; and an average patient satisfaction score of 88 percent for telehealth services.

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