Editor’s note: This story has been updated.
Veterans enrolled in the Telemental Health program at any Veterans Affairs Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System centers in South Texas can now connect with mental health professionals from across the state without ever having to leave their home.
U.S. Army veteran Douglas Young was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after completing two tours in Vietnam, and is enrolled in the program at McAllen Veteran Affairs Outpatient Clinic.
“I flip open my computer, log in with a security–I felt like I didn’t have to worry about someone overhearing the conversation,” Young said. “I could be totally and completely candid with her.”
Veterans can download software onto their personal computers, then communicate with their psychologists via the internet. The program has helped reduce wait times at V.A. clinics in South Texas.
“It helps the veterans save the cost and time of travel to and from appointments,” said V.A. Clinical Psychologist Dr. Hector Garcia. “It’s great for veterans who may have mobility issues for medical reasons, for example, and it is invaluable for veterans who live in rural areas who may have to drive three hours each way for every appointment. For those veterans, I can meet them virtually right in their living room.”
The Veteran Affairs Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System reported over 7,000 veterans were enrolled in the Telemental Health program in the 2016 fiscal year.
Associate Chief of Staff for Mental Health Dr. Jennifer Wood said veterans only need a computer with a webcam and access to the internet to participate in the program.
“However, the V.A. has recently rolled out an additional program where we can actually issue a tablet to veterans who may not have those devices in their home,” Wood said.
Young encourages all veterans to join the program.
“Guys, there are some people out there who really care. Give it a try,” said Young. “The V.A. is really helped me a lot. It hasn’t cost me a dime, and I’m a thousand percent better now.”