December 11, 2013

Portman, Hirono Initiative to Promote the Implementation of Telehealth in Military Health System Included in Draft NDAA Deal

Will help veterans suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Mazie Hirono (D-H.I.) ensured that their bipartisan amendment (S.A. 2114) language requiring the Department of Defense (DoD) to issue a report on the current status of telehealth initiatives, as well as plans to integrate telehealth in the military health care system, was incorporated as part of a newly drafted National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) deal.  This report will specifically address privacy concerns and challenges of implementing telehealth in group treatment and therapy, outreach to rural areas, and as in-home use.  Telehealth is an innovative, twenty-first century approach to problems involving Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), especially for veterans living in rural areas, where access to mental health treatment is limited, wait times can be long, and in-home access opportunities are rarely utilized.

“We must encourage the Department of Defense to continue to work on implementing telehealth throughout our military health system.  This language is an important step toward applying the technological advances of the last few decades to a problem that has bedeviled the military and our health care professionals for a very long time—how best to treat the invisible scars of war that so many of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines suffer on foreign battlefields,” said Portman.  “Through telehealth, we can mobilize electronic information and telecommunications technologies to apply a modern approach to help our veterans overcome these scars of war, while supporting long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.”

“Through telehealth we can help our military and our health care professionals tackle health issues with the best, most up-to-date technology that our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines deserve. Telehealth works to assist people struggling with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, helping them receive the treatment they need without fear or shame. This innovative technology also makes a difference for people living in rural communities, such as Hawaii’s neighbor islands. I’m proud to work with Senator Portman to promote the implementation of telehealth treatments in the military health system,” said Hirono, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs committees.

“Senator Rob Portman’s amendment not only reflects his awareness of the severity of the current PTS/TBI epidemic in our OIF/OEF Veterans, but also his realization for the necessity of a rapid yet accountable response. The Senator's request for collaborative efforts between government agencies and civilian specialists is key to the reintegration of our young Veterans. This will be a huge step toward rehabilitation and reintegration of the nation's 450,000 Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who suffer from TBI,” said Dr. Chrisanne Gordon, a Columbus-based rehabilitation physician and Founder and Chairwoman of the Resurrecting Lives Foundation.   

Earlier this year, Portman, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Federal Programs and the Federal Workforce, held a hearing entitled “Improving Federal Health Care in Rural America: Developing the Workforce and Building Partnerships.”  At the hearing, Portman pressed the VA on effective mental health and brain injury care for veterans, including initial telehealth programs, and highlighted the unique challenges faced by Ohio’s rural veterans. Excerpts of the hearing are below and the video can be found here.

TBI is often called the signature wound of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, with over 280,000 of our veterans affected since 2000, according to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. It is also estimated that 30 percent of the men and women who have spent time in war zones experience PTSD.  More than half of all male Vietnam veterans and almost half of all female Vietnam veterans have experienced "clinically serious stress reaction symptoms." PTSD has also been detected among veterans of the Gulf War, with some estimates running as high as 8 percent.