Officials hope to expand telemedicine to help vets

Topeka — As more veterans deal with mental and physical health problems, officials say a new program in Kansas will deliver medical assistance quicker and more efficiently and perhaps become a model for other states to follow.

Gov. Sam Brownback and officials from the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department and Kansas University Medical Center announced on Tuesday a collaborative effort aimed at getting veterans help through telemedicince.

"This is going to be a great service to our veterans," said Brownback.

Under the plan, a veteran could go to a nearby clinic or hospital and through a secure video hook up receive mental health counseling or other services from a health care provider. That way the veteran doesn't have to travel a long distance to a veteran's center.

"It means reaching them at a point much earlier as they deal with issues rather than waiting until maybe those issues manifest themselves into more serious or critical life-safety issues," said Kansas Adjutant General Lee Tafanelli, a former state legislator from Ozawkie who also served as a battalion commander in Iraq.

Nationally, mental health issues affect nearly one third of the men and women who return home from deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan, according to the National Council for Behavioral Health.

A 2011 pilot program in Kansas involved three hospitals providing mental health services. Officials said they hoped to expand that the more than 80 telemedicine sites throughout the state under the Kansas University Center for Telemedicine and Telehealth.

The KU Medical Center's Area Health Education Center in Garden City is the first to sign-up for the new program.

Dr. Ryan Spaulding, director of the KU Center for Telemedicine, said he hoped the partnership would be duplicated in other parts of the country.

Dr. William Patterson, director of the VA Heartland Network, which covers all or portions of six states, including Kansas, described the collaboration as a "trailblazer."

The proposal was the brainchild of state Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, who three years ago contacted Veterans Affairs leaders about the idea. They said it sounded good, so Sloan arranged for them to work with the KU Medical Center.

"I'm just a big believer in using technology to deliver health care and education," he said. Brownback called Sloan "a true renaissance legislator."

Tagged: Veterans, KU Med, Health

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