Connected Care a boon for Veterans during pandemic

Telehealth video visits by Veterans have increased by 1,132 percent


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The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the daily lives of Veterans across the country. This includes how they are connecting with their VA health care teams. They are increasingly using VA technologies such as My HealtheVet, VA’s online health portal, and VA Video Connect, VA’s secure video visit application.

VA has been a leader in using technology to connect with Veterans for well over a decade. And the use of VA’s digital health has been consistently increasing year over year. The COVID-19 pandemic has made those services essential. Many Veterans have been staying at home, taking precautions against the coronavirus.

“VA’s connected technologies allow us deliver care to Veterans in a way that is convenient and fits into their daily lives,” said Dr. Neil Evans. Evans is VA’s chief officer for the Office of Connected Care. “VA has been a national leader in telehealth for more than a decade. It delivers care to Veterans in more than 50 clinical specialties across a variety of applications and platforms.”

Three of the most popular tools

One of the most popular tools Veterans are using to connect with their VA health care teams is VA Video Connect. That program lets Veterans connect by video with their VA care teams while staying home. Even more highly utilized is My HealtheVet. VA’s online patient portal lets Veterans request VA prescription refills, review their medical records and connect directly with their health care providers through secure online messages. Veterans are also increasingly using VA’s Mobile App Store. There, they can download apps that offer assistance with pain management, self-care reminders and more.

The goal of these services is to make VA the health care the system of choice for Veterans and provide services that make access to care more convenient. VA has been pioneering telehealth solutions and increasing adoption among Veterans and providers. Now with COVID-19 necessitating increased precautions for in-person interaction, the services provided by Connected Care are more popular than ever.

All care can start with a virtual discussion.

More Veterans are adopting VA’s digital health technology options

On March 1, 2020, 9% of Veterans enrolled in VA health care used telehealth for part of their care. Over the next three months, that percentage more than doubled. By the end of June, 18% of Veterans were using telehealth. More than 1.1 million Veterans used digital health options in fiscal year 2020, through the end of June. Those options include synchronous, asynchronous or remote patient monitoring.

Telehealth video visits to the Veteran’s home or other non-VA place of choice have increased by 1,132% since February. VA providers conducted approximately 11,000 visits a week during the last week in February. That number has risen more than 12-fold, exceeding 138,700 visits a week in late June.

My HealtheVet has processed over 11.2 million VA prescription refill requests and managed over 11.6 million secure messages between Veterans and their health care teams from January to June 2020. Compared to the same period in 2019, these increases represent approximately 911,000 additional prescription refill requests and more than 2.8 million additional secure messages sent between Veterans and their health care teams.

All care can start with a virtual discussion

“Telehealth technologies are allowing us to support Veterans as they connect with their providers for routine appointments, mental health appointments, specialty care discussions, and much more. Granted, not all care can be delivered remotely. But all care can at least start with a virtual discussion, which has been extremely valuable for optimizing Veterans’ care during the current pandemic,” Evans said.

Evans recalled some recent successes in expanding telehealth programs for Veterans. A Florida nurse was able to conduct virtual visits using VA Video Connect with almost 70% of her cardiology patients during the pandemic. A VA physical therapist is using VA Video Connect to train traumatic brain injury patients in using a specialized assistive mobility device.

Minimizing the digital divide for Veterans in rural areas

VA is also committed to reducing the digital divide so that all Veterans can fully participate in telehealth services. That includes Veterans who live in rural areas.

To support Veterans whose mobile phone plans have limited data services, VA has partnered with Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Sprint, and SafeLink by TracFone to provide data at no charge to Veterans using VA Video Connect.

VA is also providing eligible Veterans with technology to use in their homes. Since March, VA has distributed 12,838 tablets to Veterans. Veterans across the country use more than 44,800 VA-issued tablets. Those Veterans didn’t previously have access to the necessary internet service or technology at home to connect with VA.

Telehealth technologies are more available and Veterans are more familiar with VA Video Connect as an option for care. Evans predicted that services like VA video appointments will continue to be widely used, even after the pandemic subsides.

Evans recommends that Veterans talk with their VA care provider to learn what connected services are available to them or visit connectedcare.va.gov for more information.


Treva Lutes is the communications lead for the Office of Connected Care.

Author

VAntagePoint Contributor

— VAntage Point Contributors provide insight and perspective on a wide range of Veterans issues. If you’d like to contribute a story to VAntage Point, learn how you can submit a guest blog at http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/how-to-submit-a-guest-post/

Comments

  1. Vickie Davis    

    The VA system I live under refuses to hire most vets. Their friends are hired first even if they do not meet the job requirement. The VA department that approves the claims is filled with administrative people with no background in the medical field. They do not comprehend mefical terminology and if the medical diagnosis is not exactly the same as in the regulations and/or the medical records, you do not have proper documentation to support your claim and is rejected. You could have a medication that was prescribed for an illness that caused a physical disability. The new disability is caused from the original disability but because it was not there in the military medical records the VA will not recognize. I have been unable to get help at home because of this reason(not part of my disability). The VA IS SCREWED UP when determinimg benefits.

  2. D Rick    

    I’m right there with you…30 min psych visits which are really just 15. Always asks me the same thing doesn’t pay a bit of attention… And that was when I was going to her office. Now that she’s just calling me on the phone, who knows what she’s doing.
    Then there’s neuro-muscular, was supposed to have a v-tel with them…I would see him he couldn’t see me. He spent most of the visit trying to get it to work and then just calls me. Next thing I know he’s setting me up for a new treatment that I know nothing about. Then tells me come to the hospital on Monday. Nothing about how long it’s going to last, what they’ll be doing, nothing… when I reached out on (non)secure messaging I just got short blunt answers… ultimately I was told to come down (3hrs) Mon morning and after I got checked in they would explain it all to me.
    If it’s unsafe to have a face to face appt… How am I supposed to feel checking into a hospital?

  3. Delores Isabelle (Parker) James    

    I am the wife of a deceased `100% Service Connected (Korean Conflict/war) veteran. I cared for him for 45 years – Got emergency calls from hospitals or others and had to leave my employment to go find him. I’m not reading any comments that are expressing thanks to the V.A. for all they do. I know from personal experience how veterans are treated. I worked in the Dallas Veterans Hospital, Oklahoma City Hospital and the Regional Office in Milwaukee. Due to my husband being 100% disabled I have been able to help many veterans (and their spouse). No one helped me at all. My son and family call me and ask me how to help a homeless veteran or someone who doesn’t understand. Those employees at the V.A. wouldn’t have their jobs if it wasn’t for the veterans. I saw Veterans who needed help so desperately and were turned away. I started referring them to the Disabled American Veterans or one of the service organizations. My husband spent 2 years in a V.A. Hospital and the DAV represented him. He was discharged with a 100 percent disabillity. I spent 40 years working for the U.S. Govenment, caring for a mentally disturbed veteran and caring for our three children. I have taken people personally to the DAV. I wish veterans knew they can get help from them. In my opinion the V.A. should be done away with. My husband was in two V.A. Skilled Nursing Homes before he passed away and his death certficate shows cause of death was MRSA WHICH HE GOT AT ONE OF THE SKILLED NURSING HOMES. He did live to be 81 years old. I am 83 now and it breaks my heart to see a homeless veteran. If I meet someone who is ill, the first thing I ask is “are you a veteran” and send them to the DAV. I pick up brochures on veterans benefits and give to veterans and have escorted some to the Disabled American Veterans. If you people are so busy, refer the sick and disabled veterans to one of the Service Organizations. I have been a member of the DAV since 1961. I’m hoping some veteran will realize that they don’t have to be treated badly by V.A. employees. PLEASE DON’T ABUSE OUR DISABLED VETERANS. I wanted to buy a house and go to college and went to the V.A. counselors and never got the certificates I needed. I’ve taken other women whose husbands are deceased and it is a waste of time. Needless to say I would never recommend the military service to any young man. I read so much about how the Veteran’s Administration helps Veterans and their families. I do receive money from the V.A. monthly. I am having surgery on my right knee and the two veteran’s homes have long waiting lists. I did spend time in one when I smashed a leg in a car accident but they had just opened. My husband was one of the first veterans to be admitted. It was new and very nice. I found an infectious decease doctor about 10 miles from the Vets Nursing Home who could have cured the MRSA but he was on dialyisis and they couldn’t do both. He never drank alcohol nor used tobacco but V.A. sent him bottles full of Oxycodone and meds that caused his kidneys to fail. I kept him on my Mail Handler’s Insurance and took him to many private hospitals including Mayo Clinic. He got much better. I don’t mean to discourage any of you veterans. Use the V.A. They are there because of you. But for serious illness and hospitalization if you have private insurance you wouldn’t be subjected to the neglect if you just went to a private doctor. I will continue helping veterans and their families until die. DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE EMPLOYEES AT THE V.A. THEY WORK FOR YOU.

  4. Wayne Collins    

    I understand the virus has reshaped how you choose to provide care to veteran.I am not happy about change. When I get depressed I tend to isolate by staying at home looking at my computer or TV or phone. This type of care encourages isolation.

    1. Amanda Goodlin Negrete r    

      I’ve dealt with some shit, all of us have. This covid hell has been a nightmare like nothing I’ve experienced ever. My local VA does, well nothing Im aware of
      I am medically retired at 10 years, rated 100 PTSD. The few times I’ve tried to go to the VA a veteran shot himself in the parking lot TWICE.
      A group of little punk guys who had never done shut in their 2 years of service were posted up waiting for their little group. They like to cry about how terrible their PTSD IS after thinking they were going to die in BCT/AIT. Days I would have chosen deste (joking) bc BCT was so hard for my scrawny butt.
      But this punks like to be bitch bc they never saw conflict or combat. My first visit I was the only woman in waiting room. They LOVED it, went from Hooters to strip Club to their fav sex positions. I politely asked them to To stop.
      They got really shitty with me. I demanded staff open office door. Long story should, I was told if I wanted 40 minutes of talk therapy a month I would have to sit in waiting room witv same macho wimps who would obviously continue to harass me. I told the therapist in training or whoever to get a clue I want going to face sexual harassment by fake vets. Even with TRICARE for life they won’t do shit for me. Their IOP IS men only, patient advocate promised me a peer support and hid for 6 months. It took a congressional through my Senator to get advocates to tell me nobody is available. I’ve been begged her for something:anything bc I was real directe all I could think of was suicide. I found am amazing program in the comment, they begged Billinhton to let me attend, she’s has been hiding like a champ well over a year,
      1.) 100% disabled vet and there’s no help
      2.) Surviving spouse since my early: 30’s that doesn’t count for shit.
      3.) i do my best ti try and help my 75 year old father who was heavily exposed to Agent Orange. My mother has lost her mind and refuses to walk. She throws herself of the flore often demanding he pick her up,
      Im college educated woman, I’ve had two successful careers.
      I guess I’m supposed to wait to die? I diid everting I was asked, I fulfilled my end of obligation. They can’t provide me a mentor to help me put some plans in place? Illl drink anywhere in the state. This is so wrong. And NO I am not doing online BS. Send me to sn IOP! How do you get all that blood off your hands? At least 25 of us ended our lives TODAY, guess you’re used to it. What is it exactly you all actually do anyway? I’ve NEVER Heard a vet say you all have done jack shit.

  5. Ken    

    This is a fluff piece article that flies in the face of what’s really going on with the VA at this time.The Dallas VA continues to hide that they are denying all referrals (unless deemed immediate life or death related) via the Mission Act to outside doctors due to COVID-19 with no timetable on when this “restriction” will be lifted. All in the guise of “keeping veterans safe from COVID-19”. They don’t care that doctors in the Mission Act network are taking new patients and performing procedures. What makes it worse is that many of the doctors at the VA Hospital are not allowed to perform procedures at their own facility either.
    So in order to get the care I needed I had to pay thousands out of pocket to get my issues resolved.

    Current VA leadership doesn’t care about us, they care about playing political and bureaucratic games.

  6. Anna Chresanthakes    

    Hello,
    Can you please provide me with a contact in Chicago and surrounding areas, I work with the Veterans Coordinating Committee in Chicago. Provide VA eldercare services in Chicago.

    Thank you,
    Anna

    1. Barbara A Barnes    

      I am living in Knoxville Tennessee and I am so upset with the care and treatment I am receiving. No one has time for you anymore and this pandemic is awful and I think it’s only political. Anyway I suffer with depression and PTSD and I isolate and started drinking until I blacked out and realized I can’t do that. I went to an outside eye doctor today and it cost 400 dollars because the VA doesn’t want to do eye exams but the community will do eye exams at my expense and I am 100%Disabled Veteran and supposed to receive all my medical free. It’s a scam in my eyes. We need help

  7. DeeBee Ann Fairchild    

    When mandatory telehealth started, I figured the VA would find this a much easier way to deal with all of us veterans. I hate telehealth. I have never liked talking on the phone. I don’t like “smart” phones. I haven’t been able to connect with any provider since I’ve been to the VA clinic.

    I don’t know where the information in this article came from but I don’t believe it’s the truth. I haven’t talked to any vet that likes telehealth. Every one of them finds it impersonal. There is no way you can talk to a doctor about everything over the phone. And my real concern is that no one ever gets their vital signs taken!! That is one of the most important parts of a doctor’s visit. What kind of healthcare is this? It isn’t.

    This just proves the VA still doesn’t care, they think we’re stupid enough to believe this is good for all of us. This article is NOT based on the truth. It’s based on what the VA wants us to believe as always.

    So, what will all the employees do with all the time they will have now that they don’t have to deal with us veterans any more?

    1. SW    

      I agree with you DeeBee. Every time I went to the VA in one particular clinic the clerks made a point of asking me if I had tried to check in on the kiosk. My answer to them was no and I don’t intend to, it’s a violation of my HIPAA rights and also the VA VIOLATING 45 CFR which clearly defines their obligation to protect my personally identifiable information. Shocked the heck out of them when I responded that way because they think we are all stupid and just sheep that will unquestioningly do whatever they tell us to do or blindly take whatever medications they prescribe.

    2. Carolyn Thomson    

      I agree. I think it slows the process of treating illnesses and conditions that are not common or related to Covid 19. I also think they are using Covid 19 as an excuse to not provide treatment for other conditions quickly enough or to follow through. I think most VA healthcare facilities are large enough to have set up a way to see other chronic conditions or emergency illnesses more effectively.

  8. William H Jeffries    

    I want to add in support of my Vet friend the VA sucks if I knew then what I know now I would have never subjected my family as well as myself to the VA health care system. I understand the reason that so many more veterans have committed suicide. I want to go back to care in the community as then at least I get to see a Dr.

  9. Brigham Tiafau    

    Thank you for all the information provided concerning my healthcare. While I appreciate all that is provided for us veterans, there are some issues that needs to be talked about and clarified regarding my disability claims during this pandemic which some veterans May have come across. That is.. the VA benefits office sending letters of their decisions regarding my disability claim while I was unable to be seen by a physician because of the pandemic. It seems to me that the benefits office are going through my records and making decisions while I’m unable to see my doctors and recording my true and current health status. This is frustrating because as you know, my VA benefits supplement my other retirement income. I am already feeling the anxiety of everything around me me and what I am going through since leaving military service. But to add to it the stress of possibility that my benefits may be taken away is all that I can bare. For years I have been fighting to keep my benefits yet as soon as the pandemic hits, all of a sudden I cannot defend myself. This is not right.

  10. Daniel Cunningham    

    This article is a lot of b.s. I wonder if it is just that there are so many employees at the VA, sitting around in front of their computers with nothing to do so they write these silly stories to cover up for the fact that so many of them are useless and wasting their lives away at nothing.
    I was disrespected and neglected and even lied to by VA medical personnel last month when I had to go to the VA hospital to get heart surgery or die. It was a tough call. I laid in be for those 10 days following the surgery thinking maybe I would have been better off dead than to be subject to the whims of so many incompetent and uncaring people.
    Now, working hard at recovery, at home, alone, using the equipment the VA provided, advised by the P.T. people the VA hired to coach me I am hoping to maybe get my life back.
    But the psychologist that has been doing “therapy” with me for two months – one 1/2-hour phone call every week or two –
    has come up with the “plan” that I should get with the Mental Health department.
    Oh???
    I had thought she was mental health. So I have wasted these two months, waiting to get through the preliminaries before
    the decision is made to get me Tx for PTSD and Depression and Dissociation.
    … after she had asked ma all those questions – “have you ever been in a situation where you were afraid …. have you ever been with someone as he died?… were you ever ….”
    HOW THE FCK DID I GET PURPLE HEART IN VIETNAM if I was not in combat?
    How is it I have a rating for PTSD and I know it has been getting worse since I blame the VA more than ever for the terrible
    mis-diagnoses and bad Tx they have inflicted on me over the years ?
    How is it this professional therapist can presume to ask me these stupid-ass questions over the phone with no regard for how upsetting it is bring up these old memories and then hang up?
    And why in the name of God does the VA’s Mental Health department give you a recorded speach instead of answering their phone because the VA will never get around to talking to you.
    Who the hell do you think you are kidding when you claim that telephone and computerized care is helpful. ?
    This attitude is the reason that so many more veterans have committed suicide and the rate of virus infections at home has jumped up.

    1. SW    

      Mr. Cunningham, thank you for your service. I agree with you wholeheartedly, this is abuse of you. It is mental and emotional abuse. I have never heard of a mental health call lasting only a half hour. You should report this incompetent idiot to the facility director or at least the chief of mental health services.
      Your first question about having so any employees sitting around doing nothing is spot on. There are clerks at my VA, in one particular clinic, that when you go to check in, they’ll hold up one finger indicating hold on a minute so they can finish their conversation about SHOPPING FOR T-SHIRTS instead of checking veterans in. None of them seem to want to understand that they are there to SERVE VETERANS, veterans are not there to serve them.
      Two other things that veterans need to be aware of “secure messaging” ISN’T, anybody can read the messages and clerks do Not have a NEED TO KNOW what veterans’ health issues are. When a veteran calls the primary care call in number to speak to a clinic, the person answering that call in number IS NOT in the clinic and as a clerk does Not have a NEED TO KNOW why you are calling. For years when I would call in I would have to explain to the person answering the phone what I was calling about only then to have them tell me they would connect me to the clinic or send a message to the clinic. Say what? I blatantly refuse to tell the clerk who answers why I’m calling and request that they connect me to the clinic.
      FYI, I am a disabled veteran and NOT an employee of the VA. I was TOO old to be hired.

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