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Kuster Introduces Bipartisan Legislation To Improve Access to Crucial PTSD Treatments

***Legislation addresses rising suicide rate among veterans***

Today, Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02), the lead Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, introduced the Enhancing Veterans Experience with Telehealth Services Act (eVETS), bipartisan legislation to improve access to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment via telemedicine. The introduction comes less than a week after the Department of Veterans Affairs reported an alarming surge in the suicide rate among veterans. The bill seeks to remove barriers that stand in the way of vital, evidence-based treatments for veterans with PTSD.

Representatives Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), Bruce Poliquin (ME-02), Alex Mooney (WV-02), Greg Gianforte (MT-AL), Bruce Westerman (AR-04) and Peter Welch (VT-AL) are cosponsoring the bill.

“This bill is designed to improve access to treatment and help save the lives of veterans who are feeling discouraged and hopeless,” said Kuster. “In rural communities in New Hampshire, the nearest VA facility can be an hours’ drive away, deterring many from obtaining help. For these veterans, qualified, private therapists are few and far between. By rapidly expanding the VA’s offering of telehealth to these areas, we hope to address obstacles that have kept far too many veterans from receiving care.  I’m grateful that my colleagues could come together to recognize the need for this bill and to help ensure our veterans receive the care they deserve.”

“Tragically, the rate of Veteran suicide in Maine—which is home to more than 114,000 Veterans—is significantly higher than the national level,” said Congressman Poliquin. “As a new member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I’ve made it a priority since joining to help address this crisis. I’m proud to work across the aisle with Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kuster of New Hampshire to introduce this important piece of legislation which will help Maine Veterans living in rural areas receive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Further, the eVETS Act will build upon partnerships, such as one that is underway in Maine—Microsoft’s Rural Airband program—to increase Veterans access to the Internet while allowing them to receive essential treatment.”

“Veterans who live in rural areas must have access to the health care they need and have earned through their service,” said Shea-Porter. “In rural communities, accessing mental health care can be especially challenging for our veterans, and this bill will help by expanding the VA’s telehealth program. Expanding the telehealth program will enable the VA to reach and provide evidence-based mental health care services to more veterans.”

“In rural states like Vermont, there are too many barriers between veterans and the care they need,” said Welch.  “Distance from providers should not be one of them. This bipartisan legislation will provide better access to mental health care for our veterans in rural communities by advancing the VA’s use of telehealth technology.”

“Montana veterans can drive 300 miles to an appointment and another 300 back home, burdening them with more stress and higher costs,” said Gianforte. “I am proud to cosponsor this bill to increase opportunities for veterans to receive treatment for PTSD through telemedicine in the convenience and security of their own home.”

“Medical care is difficult to access in rural areas, but more so for veterans who often drive hours to their nearest VA hospital or outpatient clinic. This legislation would give veterans in rural areas access to care in their communities through the expansion of telemedicine. It removes hurdles veterans currently face when seeking medical care and keeps our promise to provide America’s heroes with the care they deserve,” Westerman said.

“As the son of a Vietnam Veteran, I understand the importance of providing high quality healthcare to those who have served our country. Veterans across West Virginia could benefit greatly from telemedicine and I am proud to join with my colleagues to introduce this bill. I will continue my work to ensure that Veterans across West Virginia have access to high quality healthcare,” Mooney said. 

Veterans are 1.5 times more likely to take their own lives than those who never served in the military. eVETS seeks to build upon and expand the VA’s offering of telehealth treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to veterans living in rural areas of 10 states. Those states possess the highest per capita rates of veterans in rural communities for a total of about 674,000, including 47,000 Granite State veterans, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The bill allows veterans to choose between two extensively researched methods of treatment, prolonged exposure therapy and cognitive processing therapy. It also guarantees each patient at least a dozen therapy sessions. The care will be delivered via the VA’s video conferencing software.