As part of federal initiatives to fix the disaster that has been the operation of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, the Trump administration unveiled a new effort to expand veterans’ access to Telehealth services Wednesday.
Aside from straightforward incompetence, the VA department has been plagued with extensive backlogging of patients in certain regions of the country. Department secretary Dan Shulkin told USA Today back in April that while a veteran may need to wait an average of eight days to get a mental health appointment in Long Beach, California, it can take a whopping 87 days to get an appointment in Santa Fe.
The expanded Telehealth Services program announced Wednesday intends to ease this issue, giving veterans’ access to a medical needs interface as an app on their phone, allowing them to schedule appointments at any time, anywhere in the country, while providing wait time information and cross-facility comparisons. When a veteran requests an appointment using the app, s/he will be able to see the wait time, a type of transparency Shulkin hopes will put pressure on facilities to cut their wait times.
“[T]he way that you fix this is not by internally motivating people to fix it — you actually need the external environment, people looking [and] saying, ‘I don’t understand why it’s 45 days,'” he said.
Shulkin also hopes that the modernization of the Telehealth programs video connection technology will allow patients to seek non-hands on care, such as mental health diagnoses, even when they aren’t present at a VA facility.
“This is all part of our modernizing the VA,” Shulkin said.
It certainly needs it, only 700,000 veterans have been using the department’s telehealth services, thus far. Shulkin expects the new effort to change that.
“I expect this to dramatically increase our numbers from 700,000,” Shulkin said.
Earlier in June, Trump signed two law-enforcement-related bills, including one that will improve job prospects for veterans.
According to the White House, the president signed the American Law Enforcement Heroes Act of 2017 and the Public Safety Officers Benefits Improvement Act of 2017.
The Heroes Act was passed in May by the House and Senate, and authorizes law enforcement organizations who received funds from the Justice Department’s COPS community policing program to use the money to hire veterans.
The Benefits Act was also passed in May by Congress, and is focused on decreasing the time that family members of public safety officers killed in the line of duty must wait to receive survivor benefits.
Earlier in April, Trump signed the Veterans Choice Act, which is now known as the Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act. With the new law, veterans are able “to see the doctor of their choice and don’t have to wait and travel long distances for V.A. care.”
Trump also stated that this “new law is a good start but there is still much work to do and we’ll fight each and every day to deliver the long-awaited reforms our veterans deserve and protect those who so courageously protected each and every one of us.”
The original bill was set to expire in August with a surplus of just under $1 billion in the account.
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