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VHA CC News–March 2017

VA Community Care Partners with Community
Providers to Expand Mental Health Services

Reprint from VA Pulse, posted by Baligh Yehia in VA Community Care on Feb 15, 2017 9:31:00 AM

There is growing demand for mental health services across the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Between 2005 and 2016, the number of Veterans who received mental health care from VA grew by 84%, and the number of treatment encounters more than doubled. It is estimated that as many as one in every five Veterans who return from combat may have a mental health concern. Common conditions that returning combat Veterans face include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), depression, substance use and suicidal crises. In addition, for all Veterans the transition from military life, unemployment, financial hardship, aging and dementia can also contribute to mental health concerns.

VA Telehealth Services

VA has traditionally provided mental health services in three different forms: (1) in-person care where Veterans visit a local VA facility, (2) in-person community care where Veterans see a provider in their community, and (3) telehealth where Veterans connect over video with their VA providers. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, VA provided mental health treatment to more than 1.6 million Veterans, resulting in over 21 million encounters. In the same year, more than 133,000 Veterans received some of their mental health treatment through telehealth, for a total of over 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 from FY 2015.

In addition, VA Community Care has started to introduce another way mental health services can be provided to Veterans: telehealth services with a community provider. In partnership with VA San Diego Healthcare System in California, VA Community Care has launched an initial program at that facility. This initiative will help VA meet the growing demand for mental health services and provide VA with the ability to quickly leverage clinical capacity from community providers, even providers outside of the Veteran’s immediate geographic area. 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 leader in telehealth, and will continue to be as it expands opportunities for Veterans to access timely, convenient, high quality health care.

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