Legislation passed by the U.S. House as part of the defense authorization bill could make it easier for soldiers and veterans to get mental health treatment.
The Servicemembers’ Telemedicine and E-Health Portability Act, or STEP Act, cuts some of the red tape involved in getting care using “telemedicine” such as online chat, video links or phone calls. Right now, providers have to be licensed in the state where the soldier or veteran seeking help lives. Under the new legislation, providers would only need to be licensed where they practice, so a soldier living in Pennsylvania or New Jersey could connect with a therapist in Indiana.
Pennsylvania Congressman Glenn Thompson sponsored the bill. He says with the rising incidence of mental health problems and suicides among returning soldiers, finding help should be quick and easy. “The need for these services has been rising, and the fact is that the provider pool hasn’t kept up with that,” said Thompson. “This really does just dramatically increase access to care.”
All therapy providers will still have to be licensed by the Department of Defense to work with service members.
Andrew Stone, a staff psychiatrist at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, says measures that help pave the way to quick access are crucial.
“Only about half of the veterans of the current conflicts that have come back have even contacted the VA for any care,” said Stone. “Anything we can do to make it easier for people to get help is a positive step.”
Stone says veterans are being seen for initial mental health visits quickly, but often experience wait times for follow-up appointments. He adds that using telemedicine is especially helpful for vets who live in rural areas.