HR 7017, Enhancing Veterans’ Experience with Telehealth Services Act (eVETS Act), would establish a pilot program to enhance telehealth service access to veterans inhabiting rural areas. Any veteran who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or another mental health disorder and lives in a qualifying rural area would be eligible to enroll in the pilot program. By enrolling, veterans would gain access to at least twelve sessions of telehealth care including behavioral therapies designed to treat mental health disorders such as PTSD. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has claimed commitment to enhancing access to care for veterans in rural areas, or those who live outside of an area serviced by a VA hospital, medical center, or outpatient clinic. Under this bill, the VA would collect data related to treatments utilized, patients’ satisfaction survey results, outcomes, and dropout rates. These data would be subsequently shared with independent researchers to improve practices and disseminate information.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), nearly 20% of service members who return from Iraq or Afghanistan are diagnosed with PTSD or depression. Additionally, SAMSHA reports that the leading cause of hospitalizations among service members in 2009 was mental and substance use disorders. Broadly, the VA states that mental health treatment usage among veterans increased drastically from 2006 to 2015, and expects subsequent increases in the future.
Telehealth usage is on the rise with care provided to more than 727,000 veterans in 2017. Of those utilizing telehealth services, 45% are veterans living in rural areas. The eVETS Act would establish a pilot program intended to increase access to mental health services through expanding telehealth availability for veterans who live in rural areas.