It’s no secret that there has been a growing demand for VA mental health care. In fact, between 2005 and 2016, the number of Veterans who received mental health care from VA grew by 84 percent and the number of treatment encounters more than doubled through a variety of care options.
VA has traditionally provided mental health services in three different forms:
- In-person care where Veterans visit a local VA facility
- In-person community care where Veterans see a provider in their community
- Telehealth where Veterans connect over video with their VA providers.
Last fiscal year, VA provided mental health treatment to more than 1.6 million Veterans, resulting in over 21 million encounters. Of those, more than 133,000 Veterans received some of their mental health treatment through telehealth equaling more than 426,000 encounters. VA is the largest provider of telehealth services in the country with more than 702,000 Veteran patients completing more than 2.1 million VA telehealth encounters in FY 2016, a growth of approximately five percent over FY 2015.
In partnership with VA San Diego Healthcare System, VA Community Care recently introduce a fourth way to provide mental health care – telehealth services with a community provider – piloting the program at the California facility. The additional care option will help VA meet the growing demand by leveraging clinical capacity from community providers, even providers outside of the Veteran’s immediate geographic area through proven technology.
Telehealth services provide an increase in Veteran access to care and are a convenient option for those who face long travel times or who need to receive care in their home. Additionally, telehealth can also provide Veterans greater privacy or anonymity when seeking and receiving mental health services, without any of the stigma some might fear when seeking or receiving the same services in-person.
VA is a leads the nation in telehealth and will continue to as it expands opportunities for Veterans to access timely, convenient, high quality health care that is both helpful and convenient for them.
Dr. Baligh Yehia is VA’s deputy undersecretary for Health for Community Care.