New Law Expands Telehealth for Veteran’s Mental Health Treatment

November 5, 2020

Categories: AAMI News

By Fran Kritz

A recently signed U.S. law offers a variety of new and expanded measures to help prevent suicides among veterans, with services including an expansion of telemedicine-delivered mental health services, particularly for veterans in rural areas.

The bill, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, was signed into law last month.

The suicide rate for Veterans is 1.5 times the rate for non-Veteran adults, according to the VA. The new legislation calls for many improvements in care to address suicide prevention including better training for providers. In addition to expansion for telehealth the legislation also authorizes the VA to award grants to develop tele-mental health programs for veterans and to report on the barriers faced by veterans in trying to use telehealth.

While the VA expanded telehealth benefits and access as the COVID-19 pandemic began, codifying that and expanding it is critical said Terri Tanielian, a senior behavioral scientist with the Rand Corporation.

“That allowance was for emergency purposes which could be lifted. Expanding telehealth provisions, particularly in rural areas, continues the benefit that telehealth mental health provides,” she said.

The immediacy of telehealth, coupled with its expansion could be a factor in helping to reduce veteran suicides, say experts.

“In my experience, crisis intervention must be accessible and prompt, especially for those riddled with thoughts of harming themselves,” said Arthur Bregman, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Miami. “Veterans experiencing suicidal thoughts today cannot be expected to make an appointment for tomorrow. And that is the efficacy of telemedicine … I have no doubt that telemedicine will save hundreds of thousands of veterans’ lives.”