Press Release

Congressman Cuellar’s Telehealth Language for Rural Veterans Passes Full House

Bill includes president’s request of nearly $2.4 billion in funding for telehealth over next two years

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WASHINGTON, DC, May 19, 2016 | Riley Brands (202-226-0507) | comments

Today Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28) announced the passage by the full U.S. House of the Fiscal Year 2017 House Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill. The bill includes language to increase telehealth options for veterans. The bill also includes the nearly $2.4 billion requested by the President for telehealth. The bill passed on a vote of 295-129 Thursday.

Telehealth is the use of electronic and telecommunications technologies to support remote health care delivery. While in many cases veterans can access a medical office, this often does not extend to the specialty care they need or those who are in very rural areas or are infirm. Within the field of telehealth is telemedicine, which tends to refer specifically to health care services provided remotely via technologies such as the computer, phone or videoconferencing, although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. The funds and language, which encourages the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to explore innovative ways to use telemedicine to care for rural and infirmed veterans, have to be passed by the full House and Senate before being sent to the President’s desk.

The VA strives to provide the care and services our country’s veterans need close to home. Over the years it has implemented programs such as the Veterans Choice Program, which allows veterans who live more than 40 driving miles from the nearest VA medical facility to use local health care providers. With telemedicine, veterans can in some cases dial into a visit from home or videoconference with a VA health care specialist in a remote location from a VA health care facility. In 2015, the VA provided more than 2 million telehealth consultations to over 677,000 veterans, 45 percent of whom were in rural areas.

For those veterans who cannot easily access a doctor’s office, Congressman Cuellar has embraced the adoption of new innovative technology and the possibilities of delivering high-quality medical care through telemedicine. Telehealth can improve veterans access to care by increasing the ways veterans receive medical advice and reducing the time and cost of having to travel to receive care. 

“Telemedicine is the wave of the future in medicine, not just for general practice but also for veterans’ care,” Congressman Cuellar said. “I have continually committed myself to providing greater access to services for veterans, such as through my language to increase burial options for veterans, and with many veterans either too far or too sick to travel to a local doctor’s office, much less the nearest VA medical facility, I knew the VA needed to look for more innovative ways to take care of all our veterans. With the passage of this bill by the House, we are closer to making this happen.

“Not only does telemedicine make receiving medical treatment easier, but studies have found it drives down health care costs in Texas and across the country. I’m not arguing that telemedicine is the appropriate course of action for all patients; however, with a disability compensation benefits program for 4.4 million veterans, 405,000 survivors of wars and nearly 35,000 veterans in the 28th Congressional District alone, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it should be used as a tool when called for.”

To read the language Congressman Cuellar included, please click here. The funds allotted in the bill are available as $1.171 billion for FY 2017 and $1.226 billion for FY 2018.

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