Sunday, May 23, 2010

Help for Veterans

In an effort to reduce the financial burden on veterans living in rural areas, Senator Mark Begich representing Alaska introduced legislation on May 6th with Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa to waive copayments for telehealth and telemedicine visits for veterans. The bill amends title 38 of the U.S. Code related to Veterans Benefits to give the Secretary of Veterans Affairs authority to waive the fee.

There are more than 200 veterans in Alaska with 100 of the veterans living in rural Alaska that are enrolled in the VHA’s Telemedicine Program. The veterans are paying up to $50 per visit for a copayment on a telehealth appointment.

“Telemedicine has become an increasingly integral part for addressing the needs of veterans living in rural and remote communities and is a critical piece to ensure that they have proper access to healthcare,” Begich said. He continued to say “For rural veterans in Alaska, who sometimes have to travel by float planes or boats or even snow machines to get to a clinic to monitor diabetes, high blood pressure, or other chronic conditions, using more telehealth can only result in lower costs and better health.”

Begich said he believes waiving the fees may encourage more veterans to take advantage of VHA’s telehealth programs, which saves taxpayer money by eliminating or reducing the need for travel for some of the health services.

The Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs held a hearing on May 19th to discuss pending bills affecting veterans before the Committee. Dr. Robert Jesse, Acting Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Policy and Program Management for the Veterans Benefits Administration appeared before the Committee to discuss S.3035 a bill dealing with TBI.

The bill, the “Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Care Improvement Act of 2010” (S.3035) would require the establishment of a Polytrama Rehabilitation Center or Polytrauma Network site for the VA in the northern Rockies or the Dakotas.

According to Dr. Jesse, the VA has determined that an enhanced Polytrauma Support Clinic Team with a strong telehealth component operating at the Ft. Harrison, Montana, VA facility would meet the needs and the workload volume of Veterans with mild to moderate TBI residing in the catchment area of the Montana Healthcare System. The estimated cost of staffing the Polytrauma Support Clinic Team at Ft. Harrison would be $1 million in the first year, $6.1 million for five years, and approximately $13 million over 10 years. It would also make it possible for other Veterans from the northern Rockies and the Dakotas to have access to TBI rehabilitation care via telehealth technologies.

Dr. Jesse emphasized that with the VA using a Polytrauma Support Clinic Team using telehealth, it is not feasible or advisable for the VA to establish a Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center or Network site focusing on moderate to severe TBI. Because of the action already taken by the VA, Dr. Jesse told that Committee that this bill is not necessary and therefore the VA won’t support S 3035.

In another action to specifically to help veterans, the VA at their Technology Acquisition Center in Eatontown NJ is going to develop the “Patient Assessment System” (PAS) to use to administer web-based patient self-assessments for veterans with mental health issues. The PAS will provide data to the VistA-based system that will generate chart notes for mental health clinicians to use. This would make it possible for veterans to do mental health assessments nationally in kiosks using Internet Explorer.

The solicitation (VA 118-10-RQ-0156) posted on May 14th on is looking for a contractor to develop software for the system. The response date for the solicitation is June 4, 2010. This is a set aside for a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business.