VA inks deal with Facebook, increases video services for virtual mental health care

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The Department of Veterans Affairs is increasing virtual mental health services and ways for veterans to stay connected as in-person care is reduced to blunt the spread of the coronavirus.

One such example: The department announced a new deal with Facebook on Wednesday to provide 7,400 Portal video devices to qualifying veterans and caregivers.

The deal aims to “reduce isolation and improve social connectedness” by connecting veterans with family caregivers and other veterans through the video conferencing devices, according to a VA news release. The Red Cross will ship the devices to veterans and family caregivers.

“Veterans, families and caregivers will benefit through an increased support system,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Our goal is for Veterans to feel less isolated through more communication. We believe this technology will help Veterans who might otherwise be unreachable.”

The news comes as the VA has held more than 2,700 telehealth group therapy sessions in March, up more than 200 percent from February. Similarly, mental health care consultations done over the phone increased by 280 percent to 154,000 appointments in March, according to a VA news release.

Overall, the VA’s health care services have been strained by the need to care for veterans with COVID-19. But the VA Video Connect application allows medical providers to connect remotely with patients from anywhere there is an internet connection.

Many of the increased services the VA has been able to offer come after it received $20 billion following the passage of the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion response package designed to stabilize the faltering economy and prop up agencies as they cope with teleworking and other coronavirus-related impacts. The legislation also gave the VA the authority to enter into free and reduced-price telecommunications contracts to connect with rural veterans who need mental health care.

“VA is open for business and we continue to provide same-day mental health services and mental health screening for Veterans at-risk who require attention at any of our facilities,” Wilkie said.

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coronavirus, COVID-19, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Facebook, mental health, Robert Wilkie, telehealth
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