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Veterans’ Committee Hears Begich’s Telehealth Bill

VA plans to expand telehealth services for veterans

The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs today heard testimony on a variety of pending health and benefits legislation including a bill introduced by Sen. Mark Begich, S.3325, waiving copayments for telehealth and telemedicine visits for veterans. Begich and others at the hearing secured a commitment from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to expand telehealth services, making it more important any copayment be waived.

“As a greater number of veterans are facing the challenges of substance abuse, mild brain injury, and other issues associated with their service, we need to continue to strive to make health care more efficient and less costly,” Begich said. “I believe waiving these fees will encourage more veterans to take advantage of the VHA’s telehealth programs, which can be a Godsend for rural veterans with few other viable options.”

Currently, more than 42,000 nationwide veterans are receiving care in their homes, through the VHA Telemedicine program. In Alaska, there are more than 220 veterans receiving this service, many in rural areas. While the VHA is saving taxpayer money by using telemedicine, some telemedicine visits require veterans to make a co-payment of roughly $50 per visit. Begich’s bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) would waive those copayments.

The bill is supported by the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Vietnam Veterans of America.

The Veterans’ Affairs Committee also discussed other pieces of legislation co-sponsored by Begich including the Veterans Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2010 and the Veterans Employment Act of 2010. Additionally, as part of its budget request this year, the VA is requesting $250 million to strengthen access to health care for 3.2 veterans enrolled in VA’s medical system who live in rural areas, of which Begich supports. Rural outreach includes expanded use of home-based primary care and mental health

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