We must expand telehealth for veterans
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The 1st District of Georgia has a rich military heritage and one of my greatest honors is serving the service members and veterans in Southeast and Coastal Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Although a couple hours from home, many of our veterans travel to Charleston, S.C., or Lake City, Fla., in order to receive care from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital and medical facility. I, too, often visit these facilities to see how we can improve the care these heroes receive.

On a recent visit to the Charleston facility, we discussed a number of barriers that are standing in the way of better care for veterans. One serious concern is the VA’s current limitations on telehealth.

The VA Mission Act, which I was proud to support in Congress and was later signed into law by President Donald Trump in 2017, reformed multiple programs at the VA. It overhauled the Veterans CHOICE Program, improved the veterans caregiver program and aimed to modernize the VA’s health care facilities.

Additionally, the VA Mission Act authorized the VA to provide telehealth services across state lines. This is critical because these VA health facilities are now able to give care to veteran patients in the First District without forcing those veterans to travel hours to South Carolina or Florida to be seen by a physician.

However, while we’re making important strides in telehealth at the VA, there is still a big problem. While at the Charleston VA medical facility, I learned that only doctors are allowed to use telehealth systems and trainees are not permitted to use the program.

Just like in any health care system, students, interns, residents and fellows are critical components of the VA. They use these professionals in every aspect of care. These medical providers have graduated medical school and are training to become full-time doctors. They need access to the telehealth system so they are able to get the experience necessary to provide the best possible care to veterans once they are fully licensed.

Additionally, allowing this population of health care professionals to use the telehealth system will increase access to this important care by increasing the number of providers.

That is why I introduced H.R. 3228, the VA Mission Telehealth Clarification Act in the United States Congress. My legislation authorizes trainees to use the telehealth program under the supervision of an appropriately credentialed VA medical professional. This will allow better access to VA health care as well as better prepare future doctors to use the system.

Our veterans served our nation and deserve access to the best possible care when they return home. Increasing the use of telehealth at VA health centers is critical to ensure veterans are able to receive the care they need no matter where they live.

The VA Mission Telemedicine Clarification Act is only one small step to improve the health care system for veterans, but it is an important step that should be taken immediately.

Congressman Earl L. “Buddy” Carter represents the 1st District of Georgia in the United States House of Representatives.