Telehealth appointments increased by 1,000 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic through the VA’s Video Connect program, increasing from 10,000 to 120,000 appointments a week between February and May, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Even during these challenging times, VA has and continues to maintain access to high-quality health care for veterans,” Robert Wilkie, VA secretary, said.
While one in five Americans will suffer from a mental health condition this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, certain populations like vets have unique behavioral health needs like Traumatic Brain Injuries, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Military Sexual Trauma.
The VA Western New York Healthcare System (VAWNYHS) conducted more than 9,000 telehealth appointments between October 1, 2019 and August 17, 2020.
In WNY, use of this service continues to increase since mid-March with 29,000 appointments per day being the peak — representing a 1,400 percent increase from the same time period in 2019.
Additionally, all mental health providers can complete video to home visits through the Video Connect program.
The 3-year-old service, Video Connect, makes VA health care more accessible to vets and their family by removing barriers like transportation and distance or health conditions that limit traveling for care.
Barriers to VA mental health services include navigating VA benefits, privacy and financial concerns, worry about what others think, and more, according to a 2018 BMC Health Service Research report.
The expansion of telehealth helps address these barriers, but long-term mental health support should continue after the pandemic subsides, as negative mental health consequences don’t decrease in step with physical health concerns, according to a 2020 report in Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health.
“VA is open for business and we continue to provide same-day mental health services and mental health screening for veterans at-risk who require attention at any of our facilities,” Wilkie said, in an April press statement. “There is no doubt VA’s early embrace of new technology is aiding Veterans and I applaud VA health care workers and Veteran patients for embracing it.