Description: This article is mainly focused on the commitment that VA officials made to ensure that they are committed to providing mental health services to rural areas.
I wanted to say a couple of things about the claims backlog. The claims backlog remains a challenge to the VA, there’s no doubt that the VA must accelerate progress and I’m committed as a member of this committee to provide the necessary resources so that you can get the job done.
I realize the backlog is down 40% from its high point a year ago, which means we still have a lot more work to do addressing. The claims backlog is just one step that I think in better serving our veterans, so I recently introduced a bill with Senator Heller of Nevada to improve care and access to care for rural veterans.
One of the provisions in the rural veterans Improvement Act is to enhance mental health care for our rural veterans. After talking with veterans in places like Taos, New Mexico, and Roswell New Mexico, it became clear to me that rural veterans who suffer from PTSD and other service connected mental health issues are not always getting access to the care they deserve.
This is concerning because veterans who do not access mental health care can be a higher risk of hurting themselves and others. Mr. secretary would use support initiatives such as the rural veterans Improvement Act to make fee for service available for the veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury or other service-connected mental health issues under certain conditions, where treatment at a clinic serving rural veterans is not available or where treatment opposite options such as complementary or alternative medicine, including traditional Native American healing.
Methods are not available, I need to make sure that we understand and are responsive to your initiative. We have young people carrying the mission for ten years who are great youngster and have done so well, we are proud of them.
Mental health is something that we continue to focus on. As I’ve said, we’ve increased the budget here for sick by 61%, so it’s something we work hard at. Rural issues are challenging and we have tried some initiatives, some of them seem to be bearing out.
There is a challenge in rural America to provide the services that these veterans have earned and deserve, what we do now is number one in all of our community-based outpatient clinics. We do provide mental health services either, there’s somebody providing there or we pay for that service in the community or we provide telehealth or telemental health connections we do by a substantial amount of mental health on our fee basis in our fee basis program.
Now with referrals, we do telemental health actually in the home, where patients sit with their webcam and have a therapeutic episode with the psychiatrist at a remote area. Last year, eighty thousand veterans participated in our telemental health efforts and we expect that to to increase substantially in 2014 and 2015.
We’d like to work with you to see how the details of legislation fits with what we are doing. But we are committed, as I know, you are to getting mental health services into these rural areas, because there’s very good evidence that when people come to us and we are able to treat them, they do get better.
Realizing the telehealth and telemedicine is a great opportunity for us to to move out into these rural areas, but one of the problems is about visiting these clinics is at the high turnover rate in rural VA clinics. We have difficulty in rural areas as everybody else, this is not something that is unique to the VA.
Our turnover rate and generally across the system is much lower than you would see in the private sector, but in rural parts of the country, we’re looking for physicians, physician’s assistants, practice, nurses, etc, the things that we have are the tools, flexibility with salaries and we do pay competitive salaries.
It’s an excellent place to have a career, there are all kinds of opportunities for advancement. We have recruitment and retention bonuses, we’re able to or awards and we’re also able to forgive the educational debts that a number of these people have, so I think these are within the budget.
There is certainly the money, and there are the tools available that we need in order to make practicing and rural American attractive proposition.