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Good morning,

It’s my firm belief that Congress has an incredible responsibility to ensure we live up to the promises made to our veterans.

As you and I know, our men and women in uniform have selflessly sacrificed in defense of our freedoms, and our way of life. We must ensure that our veterans are prepared to transition back to civilian life. They deserve nothing less than the benefits they were promised and a quality of care we can all be proud of.

Recently, bipartisan legislation that I introduced, known as the Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act unanimously passed the Senate. This legislation seeks to improve health care access for disabled or rural veterans by expanding telehealth services – including mental health treatment - provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

I thought these efforts might be of interest to you. If so, please continue reading below to hear more about the VETS Act.

The Bipartisan VETS Act Passed the Senate: What it Means for Iowa Veterans

What is the VETS Act?

I first introduced this bipartisan legislation with Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, in 2015. The VETS Act seeks to improve health care access – including mental health treatment – for disabled or rural veterans by expanding telehealth services provided by the VA by allowing VA health officials to practice telemedicine across state lines if they are qualified and practice within the scope of their authorized federal duties. Additionally, the legislation ensures the VA and Congress provide oversight of the VA’s telehealth program by requiring the VA to measure program effectiveness.

How will the VETS Act help Iowa veterans?

Iowa is home to more than 200,000 veterans, many of whom reside in more rural areas, distant from Iowa’s VA facilities. 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.

What is telehealth?

As defined by the Veterans Health Administration telehealth is, “the wider application of care and case management principles to the delivery of health care services using health informatics, disease management and telehealth technologies to facilitate access to care and improve the health of designated individuals and populations with the intent of providing the right care in the right place at the right time.” In other words, the VETS Act would allow veterans to communicate with doctors across state lines, from the comfort of their own homes through means such as the internet. Telehealth is an innovative and important way to meet the wide-ranging needs of veterans in Iowa and nationwide, including the invisible struggles of mental health care.

Will the VETS Act save Iowa veterans money?

Telehealth is one of the VA’s major transformational initiatives, and the number of veterans utilizing telehealth services continues to climb. In fact, in Fiscal Year 2016, more than 12 percent of veterans received elements of their care through telehealth services. Of the veterans that utilized telehealth services, 45% lived in rural areas. According to the VA, approximately 90% percent of veterans who utilized the VA’s telehealth services were satisfied with the care they received. Telehealth services are effective and affordable as veterans save on average $2,000 per year in health care related costs, including travel to a VA medical facility.

How is the VETS Act different from current law?

Under current law, the VA may only waive the state license requirement for telehealth services if both the patient and physician are located in a federally owned facility. In addition, the VA may only perform at-home telehealth care when the patient and physician are located in the same state. These barriers are a deterrent for disabled or rural veterans who are seeking treatment from a physician in another state, in some cases forcing veterans to travel great lengths to a federal facility before receiving telehealth services by camera or phone. The VETS Act would address these deficiencies by allowing qualified VA health professionals to operate across state lines and conduct telehealth services, including mental health care treatment, for veterans from the comfort and privacy of their own homes.

VETS Act in the News

 Watch WQAD's report on my bipartisan VETS Act here or by clicking on the image above.

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