Individuals that lived through a traumatic event – especially prolonged traumatic situations, events in which they were physically injured, or situations where they or loved ones were in danger – can develop a condition known as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Individuals with PTSD can find themselves reliving the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, avoiding particular situations that bring back memories of the event, changes in mood and hyperarousal. Considering the types of traumatic events that can lead to PTSD, it’s not surprising that experts believe an estimated 11-20 percent of veterans from America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be diagnosed with the condition.
PTSD remains one of the largest concerns for America’s military and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The issue has become so significant, that President Barack Obama even mentioned the government’s initiatives to provide mental health services to America’s returning veterans during his 2014 State of the Union address. Today’s warfighter serves multiple, long tours and is often exposed to long periods of combat. Experts point to PTSD resulting from this increased combat exposure for many issues plaguing veterans upon their return – including an increase in suicide and substance abuse.
PTSD doesn’t always present in veterans immediately during, or after their tour of duty. According to the VA, veterans tested six months after returning from combat tested positive for PTSD at higher rates then when tested immediately upon return. This indicates that PTSD can develop or intensify over time.
Unfortunately, under the Transitional Assistance Management Program (TAMP), military service members were given access to medical coverage for them and their families for only 180 days during their transition back into civilian life.
To ensure that veterans can receive treatment for PTSD – even if it presented after the initial 180 day window – U.S. Representative Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson sponsored an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 that extended TAMP by an additional 180 days for all services rendered through telemedicine. The amendment builds upon the Representative’s STEP Act, which extended telemedicine use for treating veterans.
According to Representative Thompson, the amended bill, “takes meaningful steps to improve the support we offer these brave men and women as they transition to civilian life, especially those coping with behavioral health injuries, while also making it easier to access care.”
With U.S. soldiers hailing from all parts of the country – including rural and geographically remote areas – there’s a chance that a returning veteran simply isn’t located near a psychiatrist, substance abuse counselor or other specialist that they need for their mental and behavioral health. Telepsychiatry via VTC enables face-to-face meetings with these specialists regardless of the distance separating them from their patient. This ensures that a specialist is always within reach, even if the closest one is located hundreds of miles away.
Telepsychiatry can also makes it possible for veterans to receive these services from their own homes. This allows veterans to receive a specialist’s care discreetly, and without ever having to take off time from work, explain where they’re going or having to step foot in a doctor’s office.
Most importantly, it works. According to the American Telemedicine Association’s Practice Guidelines for Video-based Online Mental Health Services, “Recent large randomized controlled trials demonstrate effectiveness of telemental health with many smaller trials also supporting this conclusion.” The guidelines also quote numerous studies that found that telepsychiatry is just as effective as in-person psychiatric counseling.
PTSD is, and will continue to be, a major concern for the VA and a significant problem facing America’s heroes as they return from combat and try to reenter civilian life. By extending the window in which veterans can get telepsychiatry services via telemedicine, Representative Thompson’s amendment helped to ensure that all veterans can get the help they need, while increasing access to care and making it easier and more discreet for veterans to see a specialist.