Thompson Sends Letter to Defense Secretary Urging Full Utilization of STEP Act in Achieving Goals of Recently-released DoD-VA Joint Stategic Plan

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Representative Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson this week sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) urging a sensible timeline and greater collaboration and coordination between the DoD and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as they move forward with implementation and planning for the Servicemembers Telemedicine and E-Health Portability (STEP) Act, a bill introduced by Thompson that passed into law in December, 2011, as part of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act.  The letter emphasizes the aim and objectives of the law, as well as the critical roll the new law can play in meeting the goals of the recently released DoD-VA Joint Strategic Plan (JSP), which identified the expansion of telehealth practices – the primary intent of the STEP Act – as an essential component in meeting future Servicemember and Veteran health care needs.

“The recent release of the DoD/Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Joint Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2011-2013 highlights many of the goals proper implementation of Section 713 can achieve,” wrote Thompson. “For example, included in the ‘Goal 2: Health Care section,’ it is clearly stated that DoD/VA ‘improve access, quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of health care for Service Members, Veterans, and their beneficiaries’ through major collaborative efforts on ‘Integrated Mental Health Strategy, Health Information Sharing, and Expanded Telehealth’ initiatives.”
While telehealth has been known as an effective medium for delivering a wide range of health care, especially for those located in geographically isolated areas, it’s expansion has been limited due to state laws that require health care professionals to hold licenses in the states where the care is received.  Many health care professionals were required to get licenses in multiple states, burdening both the patients and providers, and bogging down the DoD credentialing process.
Thompson’s STEP Act, now Public Law 112-81, Section 713, expands federal exemptions for telehealth consultations across state lines by removing the individual state requirement.  DoD credentialed health care professionals will no longer need multiple state licenses, and will be able to offer services regardless of the patients physical location.
Thompson’s letter urges wide implementation across the entire Military Health System and inter-departmental coordination in order to take advantage of the law’s new authorities. “By expanding the definition of health care professionals eligible for this exemption, Section 713 provides broad discretion to the DoD for implementation, without additional limiting restrictions, in order to better facilitate the inclusion of more health care professionals to fill shortages in key areas and specialties, especially in behavioral health,” the letter states.  
Since becoming law, officials have praised the STEP Act as a significant contribution to the Departments’ long-term planning strategy. “It’s the biggest step forward we’ve seen in two years,” stated recently retired Army Vice Chief of Staff General Peter Chiarelli, in a February 7th interview with Army Times. “For me, it is huge. We have just to take advantage of it,” Chiarelli added.
The DoD-VA Joint Strategic Plan, issued on January 31, 2012, is an annual report used to identify current and emerging challenges to guide the Departments’ long term joint strategic planning efforts. Thompson’s letter concludes by offering his assistance as the Departments works to ensure the goals of the JSP are met and the full intent of Section 713 is reached.
To view the full letter, click here.
To view the DoD-VA Joint Strategic Plan, click here.