VA expanding telehealth services at Fort Harrison

HELENA, Mont. – The VA is expanding its telehealth operations to help provide better access to intensive care units in rural parts of Montana. 

It is called the tele-critical care program, and the biggest advantage to expanding it is creating convenience as well as access for veterans in rural parts of the state.

The VA first developed the technology about ten years ago, and it helped to deal with mental health crises that veterans were facing, but there are not enough providers in communities where the need for them exists. Right now, there are only about 18 VA facilities across Montana, and this service provides veterans the ability to see doctors they otherwise would not be able to. They can still get in-person appointments as needed, but the VA says veterans appreciate the convenience and privacy the program provides.

"We had a lot of positive feedback on the amount of time that the veteran gets back in their day,” Tom Carlson, the facility telehealth coordinator, said. “They no longer have to take half a day off to drive to the site of care, drive to a VA clinic to be seen. They can literally just take a few minutes out of their day, go sit in a room where they have privacy in their car or wherever, have their appointment and get back to their day."

Carlson also says people often underestimate the ability of doctors to diagnose problems and help over a phone or video call. They are also encrypted calls, adding to the level of security and discretion veterans want when it comes to handling medical or mental health issues. They hope to continue expanding over the next few years into helping with issues like PTSD and hearing loss even more than they currently do.

One other thing to touch on: with so many veterans feeling isolated since the pandemic began, the VA is emphasizing to reach out when in doubt regardless of what the issue might be. 


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